Beyond the Liffey and the Somme: Irish soldiers at the Tigris River, 1916

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2016), Letters, Volume 24

Sir,—In his article in your March/April issue (HI 24.2, pp 34–5)Mark Phelanstated that ‘the Connaught Rangers regiment had a colourful history, fighting with distinction at Waterloo and thereafter policing the outer limits of the British Empire’. In fact, the regiment wasenroute from Canada at the time of Waterloo and only arrived at Spithead on 15 July.

‘After all our privations and fighting, notes Major Oates bitterly, we were too late for Waterloo! The Regiment was ordered to proceed to Flanders without disembarking. It sailed from Spithead on July 17th, landed at Ostend on the 21st and was in Ghent on the 25th. Thence it marched to Paris and took up quarters at St Denis on August 12th.’
(Jourdain, Regimental history of the Connaught Rangers, Vol.1 (1924))

I would take issue with his use of the word ‘colourful’ but I would accept that they fought withdistinction in South America (1806), the Peninsular Wars (1809–14), Crimea (1854–6), the Indian Mutiny (1857–9), South Africa (1877–81) and (1899–1902) and the Great War (1914–18) in particular,as evidenced by their numerous battle honours.
The actions of the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers during the German gas attack between Ypres and Langemark on 26 April 1915 are particularly worthy of mention.

‘Only a small band, heroes every one of them, men in whose breasts nothing human could extinguish the flame of spiritual courage, persisted in carrying on under these torturing conditions. Amongst this party were about 60 of the Connaught Rangers under Major Deacon. … For an exhibition of sheer valour, of indomitable tenacity, this exploit has never been surpassed.’
(Mereweather & Smith, The Indian Corps in France (1917))

‘The casualty list of the Connaught Rangers that evening was 34 killed, 197 wounded and 123 missing. This included 3 officers killed and 12 wounded. Many eventually died in hospital and on the battlefield.’
(Peal, War Jottings(1916))

The 3rd and 4th reserve Battalions were based in Kinsale during the First World Warand were sending drafts to both the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The losses on the Western Front by the end of November 1914 were so heavy in both the 1st and 2nd Battalions that it was decided to merge them.

The 2nd Battalion ceased to exist for the remainder of the war. However, in February1919,at a historic and possibly unprecedented event at Huy in Belgium (near where the immortal Patrick Sarsfield was slain in 1693),the unique order was given: ‘5th Bn. ground arms, 2nd Bn.take up arms’. The 5th Service Bn. Connaught Rangers had served with distinction in the 10th Irish Division.

After the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula in late 1915,the Turks redeployed some of their élite infantry units to fight in and defend Mesopotamia. An attack on Es Sinn was planned to be launched on 18 April 1916. However, a massive Turkish counter-attack with a heavy artillery bombardment commenced at 5pm on 17April.

‘The Turks burst through en masse, in a closely formed column, estimated at some ten thousand bayonets, headed by the picked Second Constantinople Division, the corps d’élite of the Ottoman Army, which had arrived at Es Sinn recently.’

CSM John Canty, who early in the war had been rescued by Edith Cavell, and 32 other ranks were killed on 17–18 April.Quis separabit.—Yours etc.,



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