Merry Christmas from Ireland?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Winter 2003), Letters, News, Volume 11

In my possession I have an Auxiliary Division Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC) Christmas card sent at Christmas 1921 by the splendidly named Ernest Rencella Wilson. Intrigued by this item I set out to find out more about the sender. Wilson was born in Swansea, Wales, on 8 August 1897 and rather unfortunately for him his name appeared on the birth certificate as Alice! This was later corrected.
Aged eighteen, Wilson was commissioned on 30 November 1915 into the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) as a midshipman. His first operational posting was to HMS Otway, an armed merchant cruiser, originally built for the Orient Steam Company (later P&O), taken into naval service in 1915. Otway was sunk on 22 July 1917 (with several casualties) near Rhona in the Minches by German submarine UC49. Wilson next served on HMS Teviot, a river class destroyer launched in 1903, and HMS Leander, a second-class cruiser launched in 1882. During his naval service Wilson was twice treated for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Treatment for STDs features frequently in World War I officers’ records. He was demobilised on 22 June 1919, returning to Swansea.
Wilson’s RIC service started on 25 October 1920 (making him an early Auxiliary as the first recruits were taken on in July 1920) when he was posted to ‘C’ company of the ADRIC based at Macroom Castle, Co. Cork. On 28 November 1920 ‘C’ company was involved in the famous Kilmichael incident in which it lost sixteen men in an IRA ambush.
On 2 April 1921 Wilson joined ‘Q’ company of the ADRIC (the badge shown in the card). The badge has a naval theme and it seems that ‘Q’ company was based at ports around Ireland. I was surprised to learn that the Auxiliaries had a maritime company. However, History Ireland 9.1 (Spring 2001), p.32, shows a photo of Auxiliaries on board a boat guarding Terence MacSweeney’s body in Cork Harbour, and Tales of the RIC makes reference to the regular RIC having motor launches. It has been suggested that ‘Q’ company was the port control section of the police. Unfortunately RIC records make little reference to individual Auxiliary companies nor to the operations they were involved in so it is almost impossible to detail Wilson’s service. However, from his records it is possible to learn that he was not promoted (all Auxiliaries were ‘temporary cadets’, promotion being to section leader, patrol commander, 2nd lieutenant or officer commanding). Nor was he ‘dismissed’, ‘required to resign’, ‘suspended’, ‘court martialed’ or ‘murdered’—entries that regularly crop up in Auxiliary Division records. Nor was he ever on ‘special duties’.
Auxiliaries signed on for an initial six-month contract with an option to extend for another six, which he did on 12 August 1921, and like the rest of the ADRIC his service ended in January 1922. As to where he went subsequently, the records are silent. I did write to the Palestine Police Old Comrades Association to see whether he joined up, as so many RIC men did, but they have no record of him. Any further information on ‘C’ or ‘Q’ companies of the ADRIC or on Wilson himself would be greatly appreciated: 1 Cromwell Road, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S40 4TH, England, int+44+(0)1246+559437.

Tim Walls is a civil servant working in Sheffield.

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