TYNESIDE IRISH BRIGADE CENTENARY MEETING
TYNESIDE IRISH CENTRE
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE NE1 4SG
TYNESIDE IRISH BRIGADE ASSOCIATI ON
A meeting convened at Newcastle’s Irish Centre on Tuesday 5th August resolved to set up a permanent organisation to bring together descendants and supporters of the four battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers which made up the brigade which served with distinction in the first World War.
The inaugural meeting to adopt the constitution and elect officers will be held at the centre at 13.00(1.00pm) on Saturday 13th September 2014. Anyone interested is welcome to attend.
The date has been chosen specially to coincide with the original meeting held to start recruitment for the brigade which was held in the Irish National Club in Clayton Street on the same day exactly one hundred years ago.
More information can be had from Tony Corcoran, the centre’s secretary on 0191 2610384 or via the website www.tynesideirish.com.
Tony says: We are expecting a sizeable response as since the initial press reports of the initiative we have received over fifty enquiries mainly from the region but also from the south of England, Ireland and the USA. Fortunately after the inaugural meeting it will be possible for supporters to enrol and keep in touch on line.
TYNESIDE IRISH BRIGADE ASSOCIATION
Inaugural Meeting Saturday 13th September
Tyneside Irish Centre 13.00 (1.00pm)
A G E N D A
1. Election of Chair for this meeting
2. Election of minutes’ secretary for this meeting
5. Draft Constitution
6. Election of officers and management committee in line with constitution.
7. Forthcoming Events
– October 20th
– November 11th
– Others as in report to be tabled.
8. Any Other Business
9. Future Meetings
Tyneside Irish Brigade Association
The name of the organisation shall be THE TYNESIDE IRISH BRIGADE ASSOCIATION
The aims of association shall be to:-
1 Organize and support events which preserve the memory of the brigade on Tyneside and the North East of England.
2 Represent the brigade at relevant events and commemorations’
3 Liaise with organisations such as the Northumberland Fusiliers veterans , the Tyneside Scottish and the Western Front Association.
4 Contact and bring together the descendants of brigade members, their friends and supporters.
5 Maintain a relationship with the Tyneside Irish Centre as a focal point for the Irish descended population in the region.
To further these aims the committee shall have power to:
(a) Obtain, collect and receive money or funds by way of contributions, donations, grants and any other lawful method towards the aims of the association..
(b) Associate local authorities, voluntary organisations and the residents of the North East Region in a common effort to carry out the aims of the association.
(c) Do all such lawful things as will further the aims of the association.
(a) Voting membership shall be open to all registered members who have paid the requisite subscription as determined by the AGM and complied with the rules and constitution of the association.
(b) The Management Committee shall have the power to approve or reject applications for membership or to terminate the membership of any member provided that the member shall have the right to be heard by the committee before a final decision is made.
(a) A Management Committee elected annually at the Annual General Meeting shall manage the association.
(b) The committee shall consist of a chair, vice-chair, secretary, treasurer, public relations officer and other voting members
(c) Presidents /chaplains
(d) The committee may co-opt up to a further six voting members who shall resign at the next Annual General Meeting.
(e) The committee shall meet at least three times each year.
(f) One third of the committee being present shall enable the business of the group to be carried out.
(g) A proper record of all transactions and meetings shall be kept in a minute book and verified by the chair’s signature at the next meeting.
(h) Agendas shall be drawn up by the secretary after consultation with the chair.
(a) An Annual General Meeting shall be held within 15 months of the date of the adoption of this constitution and each year thereafter.
(b) Notices of the AGM shall be published three weeks beforehand and a report on the Group’s financial position for the previous year will be made available at the same time.
(c) A Special General Meeting may be called at any time at the request of the committee, or not less than one quarter of the membership. A notice explaining the place, date, time and reason shall be sent to all members three weeks beforehand.
(d) One quarter of membership or ten members being present, whichever is the greater, shall enable a General Meeting to take place.
(e) Proposals to change the constitution must be given in writing to the secretary at least 28 days before a general meeting and approved by a two thirds majority of those present and voting.
(a) The funds of the group including all donations, contributions and bequests, shall be paid into an account operated by the management committee. All cheques drawn on the account must be signed by at least two members of the Management Committee.
(b) The funds belonging to the group shall be applied only to further the objects.
(c) A current record of all income, funding and expenditure will be kept by the treasurer and reported to each meeting of the management committee..
(a) The Group may be dissolved by a resolution passed by a simple two-thirds majority of those present and voting at a Special General Meeting.
(b) If confirmed, the committee shall distribute any assets remaining after the payment of all bills to other charitable group(s) or organisation(s) having aims similar to the Group or some other charitable purpose(s) as the Group may decide.
(c) Signed…………………… Chair ……………………. Date
Signed……………………. Secretary ……………….. Date
Signed……………………. Treasurer ……………….. Date
Order of Service for the memorial of the Tyneside Irish Brigade St Patrick’s Day .
Monday 17th March 2014.
We are here today to commemorate the men of the four Tyneside Irish battalions who fought, and sadly in many cases, died in the First World War. We honour their sacrifice every year, appropriately, on St. Patrick’s Day…a special day in the hearts of Irish people.
We are indebted to local historian John Sheen for much that follows on these pages…his definitive study of the Tyneside Irish is essential reading.
Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War called for volunteers, and the call was answered in September 1914 by local dignitaries with Irish connections such as Alderman O’Hanlon, the Mayor of Wallsend, Councillor Bennett from Felling and John Mahoney, secretary of the Irish National Club to raise battalions among the Tyneside Irish.
The fledgling Tyneside Irish Battalion initially offered its services to the 16th Irish Division being formed in Southern Ireland but the Commander of the 16th Lt. Col. General LW Parsons declined the offer saying that he didn’t want any ‘slum birds’ in his division but rather the clean, fine, strong hurling playing country boys found in other Irish regiments!
Despite this setback recruits were enrolled. One of the first was Patrick Butler whose grandson and family are here at today’s service. With the British army in retreat at Mons an impetus was given to recruitment and the first battalion raised was to be eventually followed by 4 more, in total over 7,000 men.
So who were the Tyneside Irish? From John Sheen’s book it is clear that they were not all from Tyneside nor were they all Irish. Some were first born Irish but many more were second and third born Irish. Surnames like Kelly, O’Neill and O’Reilly liberally sprinkle all five battalions. They came from Newcastle, Sunderland, the wilds of Co. Durham and Teesside in their droves. But they also came from all parts of Ireland, London and Scotland. Indeed, the 2 Victoria Crosses awarded to the Tyneside Irish were to men from well outside the area, one was a miner from Castleford and the other from Mossley, near Ashton under Lyne.
Some joined because they worked alongside somebody with an Irish background. They joined for a variety of reasons not all of which were truly patriotic. Many joined simply because it guaranteed them three square meals a day and money in their pockets.
“We didn’t plan on joining the Tyneside Irish. In fact we would’ve preferred the Durhams but me and my brothers ended up in Sunderland. We couldn’t find the DLI recruiting office so we went to the pub where this bloke told us where to find it. It was for the Tyneside Irish so we thought “Oh well” and took the shilling.” (Lew Shaughnessy, 27th Battalion)
Affiliated to the Northumberland Fusiliers they became the 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th and 30th Reserve battalions and following limited training on Tyneside, field training began in Alnwick in March 1915 in the shadow of the castle, on land donated by the Duke of Northumberland. The first St. Patrick’s Day of the war was celebrated there by the 24th. The 26th celebrated the great day in Newcastle, where, as the shamrocks were being handed out, a band played a selection of Irish airs.
Capt Arnold of the 24th recalled those days in Alnwick, “How the towns and villages sprang into life in those days, when a battalion descended on them. The male inhabitants did not respond to the invasion but the females certainly enjoyed the time of their lives, and welcomed the troops with open arms.”
The officers’ mess was in the White Swan Hotel while the men lived in huts in the camp. Sgt Patrick Butler named his hut ‘Tara’s Hall’, others got called ‘Shamrock’, ‘Hibernia’ and ‘Killarney Cottage’. In fact one of these huts survived up until a few years ago, owned by a local resident.
Further training took place on Salisbury Plain. The journey south was poignantly recalled by Capt. Arnold, “Somewhere about 5am on a wet morning near the end of August the whole Brigade entrained and rumbled along south through the long length of a summer day. The dull grey fields and dykes of Northumberland and Durham gave way to the softer tints and flat reaches of the Midlands. About noon we swung over towards the west and the type of country changed again. We skirted the Quantocks and the Mendips. Instead of the stark mining villages each with its slag heap and cage tower surmounted by two big pit wheels, we came to the old villages of Gloucestershire, some of mellow stone, some with thatched roofs and whitewashed walls – we were in a different world. The men gaped out of the windows in silence, home was left far behind and the war was drawing near at last.”
By early January 1916 they were trained sufficiently to set off for France. They had further training behind the lines at St. Omer including route marches, musketry etc. while specialists such as signallers, scouts, snipers and bombers were sent for intensive training.
By the middle of February they had had their first experiences in the trenches at Bois-Grenier south of Armentieres, indeed the first death had occurred on the 12th February, that of 31 year old Private Joseph March from Winlaton. There followed the steady drip drip of casualties as the battalions became hardened to life on the frontline of the Western Front.
Back in England, the Raising Committee proposed a flag day and appropriately it was held on St. Patrick’s Day with the principal speaker 2nd Lieutenant Michael O’Leary VC who had won the Victoria Cross while a Corporal in the Irish Guards and had now been commissioned and transferred to the Tyneside Irish 30th (Reserve) Battalion. Among those speaking to the large crowd was the Lord Mayor of Newcastle Alderman Sir John Fitzgerald, Irish-born brewer and founder of the pub chain. He was to lose his son only months later.
It is recorded that most of the men got their shamrocks on the day with the 27th Battalion receiving theirs from John Redmond, leader of the Irish Nationalist Party.
By 7.30 on the morning of July 1st 1916 the Tyneside Irish Battalions were poised behind the Tara-Usna hills, astride the Albert-Bapaume road on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, as part of the 34th Division. In front of them, in a strongly defended key sector of the frontline, was the village of La Boisselle. The Germans had heavily fortified the village with deep dugouts, rolls and rolls of barbed wire and machine gun nests.
The British artillery barrage had pounded the German lines all along the front for nearly a week to obliterate the trench system and break up the barbed wire. Later German accounts told stories of men going mad with fear and despair. On the British side confidence was high. General Sir Henry Rawlinson said to his subordinates, “nothing could exist at the conclusion of the bombardment in the area covered by it“. However the German defenders were dug in so deep that they were able to survive the onslaught.
At 7.28, the mine in tunnels underneath part of the German lines just south of La Boisselle that had been in preparation for months before, exploded. A mile away on another part of the line facing the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish another, much smaller pre-prepared mine exploded at the same time. The first mine left a crater 300 feet wide and 90 feet deep and is still there today, known as The Lochnagar Crater. Many of the Germans were incinerated, vapourised in the largest man made explosion in history up to that moment.
The heavy guns fell silent, some men heard the larks singing in that beautiful summers morning, the whistles blew…and the Tyneside Irish, along with many battalions along the whole frontline climbed out of their trenches. However, the Germans, the 56th Infantry Brigade along with the Bavarian Reserve Regiments 110 and 111, realising that this was the moment of the attack, quickly scrambled out of their dugouts and manned their machine guns. And well they knew that this was the moment because a German listening post had picked up a message some hours before sent by Headquarters 102 Brigade wishing the Tyneside Scottish good luck.
And what a sight they witnessed. Line upon line of Tyneside Irishmen were walking towards them, rifles at slope to arms against their shoulders, strolling across as if on a leisurely parade. The headquarters generals felt that because of the inexperience of the troops they wouldn’t be able to grasp tactics any more sophisticated than that.
Also, they were heavily equipped with not only rifles and bayonets, but water bottles, gas helmets, hand grenades and extra bandoliers of ammunition. Some had extra equipment such as wire clippers and ladders. Indeed this was to be one of the many criticisms of the planning of the fighting in the war, simply that the soldiers had too much to carry and that when they got to the German lines they were often dead beat by the weight of their packs.
Sir Martin Gilbert, in his book on the Battle of the Somme, has evidence to suggest that a couple of battalions sent some men across with large tins of grey paint and a paintbrush to coat the captured German guns with their battalion insignia so as to claim them as booty!
Many accounts refer to the big drum of the Brigade Pipes and Drums beating time as the men went forward. Others tell of the sound of the pipes playing ‘Tipperary’. Piper J. Brown told his family that he played the ‘Minstrel Boy’ because the words seemed to be the most appropriate he could think of.
The minstrel boy to the war is gone,? In the ranks of death you’ll find him;?
His father’s sword he has girded on,? And his wild harp slung behind him;
The Tyneside Irish objectives were to take the trenches at La Boisselle, then further lines a mile or two away in front of Pozieres and Contalmaison before taking the village of Contalmaison itself. A considerable undertaking on any account.
The men climbed out of their trenches and descended the Tara-Usna hills towards the German lines. The machine guns opened up…and the Tyneside Irish went down like ninepins. They pressed on into the morning mist and the dust from the shellfire. In some places the barrage hadn’t cut the wire and men became tangled up, others were corralled in areas that were raked with machine gun fire.
The lines of the Tyneside Irish were decimated. Bombing Sergeant Patrick Butler and Corporal James Bonner between them rescued their commanding officer Col. Howard who had been wounded, got him into the safety of a shell hole then into the Lochnagar Crater. Sgt Butler and Cpl Bonner died later that day. Colonel Howard died the next day of his wounds.
Many German remains still lie in the crater and indeed in October 1998 the remains of a soldier were found in the land just behind the crater. A cross now marks this spot, and the soldier was identified as Private George Nugent, of the 22/Northumberland Fusiliers (3rd Tyneside Scottish). He was later reburied in Ovillers Military Cemetery. The crater is now privately owned to ensure that it will always remain a memorial.
Many of the wounded from that day had to wait until darkness fell to make their way back to their lines. Some were still coming in days later.
Along the entire frontline the picture was the same. The worst hit battalion was the 10th West Yorks, followed closely by the hardy Newfoundlanders of Canada and the 4th Tyneside Scottish. Other Irish regiments badly mauled that day were the Co. Down Volunteers, the Donegal and Fermanagh Volunteers and the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
The remainder of the Tyneside Irish went on to serve with distinction on other fronts in France and Flanders but the 1st July on the Somme was their defining moment. It was said that it took 2 years to train them and 10 minutes to kill them.
In total the British Army had over 19,000 killed and 36,000 wounded on that first day…the worst single day in the history of the British Army. The Battle of the Somme dragged on until halted by the rain and mud of November of that year. Many of the dead from that opening day remained exposed on the battlefield until November…arguably a silent testimony to the initial failure of British generalship and tactics.
Not counting the 30th Reserve battalion, a total of 5,560 served in the brigade. Of these 2,675 made the supreme sacrifice and few escaped unscathed: the casualty rate was well over 80%. A fitting tribute was paid by chaplain Fr. McBrearty in June 1919 when the 25th’s colour was laid up at St.Mary’s Cathedral:
“ Four and a half years ago they had their first parade in St.Mary’s…..None of them dreamt for a moment that only a mere handful would return to their native Tyneside.”
Sadly that colour was stolen but on 7th April 2001 the colour of the 27th (4th Tyneside Irish) was placed there having been restored and retrieved from Beamish Museum and on 16th September 2003 Mary McAleese, The President of Ireland, rededicated the colour and was piped in by Vincent Robinson of New York whose family have faithfully preserved the brigade’s war pipes entrusted to them by the chaplain.
An Old Comrades association was formed in the twenties and met at Fitzgerald’s Bridge Hotel until the fifties. It was from there next to the castle they marched every St. Patrick’s Day to remember their friends and lay a shamrock wreath on the Eldon Square Memorial. In 2009 that tradition was revived by the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society. It is very much in the spirit of the Irish peace process and the rehabilitation of the many thousands of Irishmen who served in two world wars that we come together to honour the memory of the Tyneside Irish Brigade today.
* Tyneside Irish by John Sheen. (Pen & Sword 2010) ISBN 978 1 84884 093 5