Orange handkerchief at the Somme?

Published in 1913, Issue 2 (Summer 1997), Letters, Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 5

Sir,—I noticed a few assertions in Timothy Bowman’s article, The Irishat the Somme (HI 4.4, Winter 1996), which I believe are incorrect.Firstly, Mr Bowman mentions that there were twenty-three ‘Irish’battalions at the Somme; there were several more that I am aware of,namely: 1st and 2nd battalions/18th London Regiment (London IrishRifles), 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, and the 6th Battalion 42ndRoyal Highland Regiment (Black Watch), the last two of which bothrecruited heavily from Ulster, the former having a recruiting office inBelfast. This would give a total of twenty-seven battalions, notcounting the unit of at least one Canadian Rifle Regiment (possiblyWinnipeg) which had an entire company of men formerly from Belfast.
With regard to the on-going ‘handkerchief debate’, I firmly believethat Major George Gaffikin did rally the 9th Royal Irish Rifles bywaving an orange handkerchief or piece of orange-coloured cloth, whilstadvancing on the 1st July. The battalion’s patch colour was orange andrelated directly to, and was easily identified by, the unit inquestion. As the 9th RIR were part of the ‘senior’ 107 Brigade, theywore triangular patches just below their shoulder titles, in orange, todistinguish them from other units. The 14th RIR (YCV) for example, worea small blue rectangle to denote its position in the ‘junior’ 109Brigade. Whether or not the choice of the 9th Battalion’s colour was aresult of party allegiances seems highly misleading, and certainlyGaffikin’s alleged reference to the Battle of the Boyne would appear tobe allegorical. However, Colonel Percy Crozier does directly mentionMajor Gaffikin in respect to possessing an orange handkerchief whilstadvancing on 1 July: ‘George Gaffikin comes next waving an orangehandkerchief. “Goodbye, sir, good luck,” he shouts to me, enpassant…’ (A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land [1940], pp.108-9). Perhapsmore importantly, Gaffikin was believed by the men themselves to havecommitted this act of bravery and in later battles, notably before thedisastrous Langemarck, members of the battalion were exhorted to followhis example.—Yours etc.,

County Down


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