The Guernsey Irishmen – The Men from Guernsey who fought with the Irish in WWI
At the beginning of the First World War the Channel Islands were still being defended by regular British Army units – with Regiments being stationed in the islands for several years at a time – and by the local Militias. Militia service in Guernsey was still compulsory for all men in the island. However since 1204 – when King John lost the Duchy of Normandy to the French and the Channel Islands were granted ‘rights and privileges’ to govern themselves – islanders could not be compelled to serve overseas except “to rescue the Sovereign if captured by enemies”.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the Guernsey Militia was mobilised in order to free the Regular Army units of the garrison for overseas service. Whilst not being liable for service many individual Guernseymen did join the Navy and Army anyway and the recruitment of volunteers began in the island as soon as hostilities commenced.
The mood in Britain and the islands was one of great patriotic enthusiasm with everyone keen to ‘do their bit’ for king and country. So it was against this backdrop that the States of Guernsey decided to offer volunteers from the Militia to serve overseas. As part of the agreement to offer these men, these ‘sub-unit’s were to be kept together with a Guernsey identity. As the States Billets d’Etat for 1915 records, the States felt:
‘Que le presénce ‘ d’une telle force, représentant Guernesey sur le Champ de Bataille seront la cause d’une vive appréciation de la part des habitant et démontrerait que l’ile prenait sa part dans la presenté crise’
“That the presence of such a force representing Guernsey on the field of battle will be a cause of great appreciation on the part of the population (of Belgium) and will demonstrate that the island will play its part in the present crisis.”
The men that left the island in these circumstances were to serve in two capacities : As infantry in the 16th Irish Division and in the 9th Scottish Division’s Ammunition column. In this article we look at an outline of the events that these brave volunteers went through in the course of serving their king, country and their island as part of the Irish Division (The Divisional Ammunition column is the subject of another article “The Guernsey Scottish“).
States Offer Militia Men for Service in the British Army14th October 1914
The States of Guernsey agree to offer the war office formed units of militia Volunteers : A double company of infantry and a Divisional Ammunition Column.
A request is sent to the British government that they be drafted into the Royal Irish Regiment that had previously been stationed in the island up until October 1913 having…
been delighted with the conduct and cheery hospitality of the 2nd Battalion who were stationed there just prior to the war.
The infantry would eventually go to the 16th Irish Division (into the Royal Irish Regiment & the Royal Irish Fusiliers), whilst the Divisional Ammunition Column would go to the 9th Scottish Division.
NOTE : A Divisional Ammunition Column is responsible for the resupply of ammunition to a particular division. It is organised into 2 parts: one for Artillery + one for small arms for the infantry.
More Drafts are sent from GuernseyApril 1915
The First Guernsey Casualty9th October 1915
The 6th Royal Irish Regiment has its first Guernsey Casualty. Private Pasquire is killed in an accidental shooting during training.
The 6th Royal Irish Leave for France17th December 1915
33 officers and 996 men of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment, including the Guernsey contingent, travel via Southampton and Le Havre to join the 47th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division of British Expeditionary Force in France.
The 6th Royal Irish Arrive in France19th December 1915
The 6th Royal Irish Regiment land in France and go into billets at Drouvin. From here parties of officers and men are attached to the 8th London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) and go into the trenches for two days at a time for instruction.
More Training for the 6th Royal Irish30th December 1915
The battalion is withdrawn from the Front for a course of bombing training.
The Guernseymen go into the Trenches for the First Time14th January 1916
Although parties of men have previously been into the line in December with the 8th London for instruction, this is the first time the 6th RIR go in for a full tour of duty. This time they are attached to 44 Brigade again for more instruction. A Company goes into the trenches with the 9th Black Watch, B Company with the 10th Gordon Highlanders, C with the 7th Cameron Highlanders and D (the Guernsey contingent) with the 8th Seaforth Highlanders.
First Guernsey Casualty from Enemy Action26th January 1916
The first Guernsey casualties from enemy action occur when 40 year old Major George Le Page is killed. A number of other men are also wounded.
6th Royal Irish Regiment in and out of the LineFeb to Apr 1916
The Royal Irish Regiment Guernsey contingent alternates between short periods in the front line and support line, training in rest camps and being attached to work parties mending roads and carrying stores.
First Casualties of the 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers16th March 1916
5 men of D Company are killed in a training session by a grenade.
The Militia Send Another Contingent to the 6th Royal Irish RegimentMarch 1916
Royal Guernsey Militia marching along Smith Street to the White Rock and sailing away on board the “Ibex” to join the Royal Irish Regiment in March 1916.
6th Royal Irish Regiment Move to the Loos Sector6th April 1916
The Royal Irish Regiment moves up to Hulluch, near Loos and goes into the line on the 9th April relieving the 6th Connaught Rangers.
The war of attritions continued to take it’s toll on the Guersey volunteers and 5 more Guernseymen become casualties :April 03 – 3201 Private James Dumaresq is killed in action.
April 06 – 3272 Private Wilfred Charles Le Ruez dies of wounds.
April 09 – 3320 Private James William Quin is killed in action.
April 10 – 3175 Private Hilary John Carré from the Castel dies of wounds.
April 22 – 3197 Private Harold Domaille dies of wounds in hospital at Le Tréport.
The Germans launch a Gas Attack Against the Irish Division29th April 1916
The Germans launch a fierce attack with chlorine & tear gas against the Irish Division. The 7th RIF were in the front line with the 6th RIR in the reserve trenches. The Fusiliers suffered heavy casualties before the Royal Irish could relieve them the next day.
The routine at this time for men in the trenches was typically :5 days in the front line
5 days in support
5 days in reserve
6th Royal Irish Alternate in and out of the LineMay 1916
The 6th Oyla Irish Regiment spend May alternating between the front line and Brigade Support. Casualties for the whole Regiment for this period were 45 killed and about 100 wounded, of which 3 Guernseymen are killed. They are :
6th Royal Irish Engage in Trench RaidingJune 1916
During June 1916 the 6th Royal Irish Regiment become known for their trench raids, again leading to heavy losses. 6 more Guernseymen are killed they were :June 04 – 3218 Private William Gartell killed in action.
June 06 – 3219 Private Alfred Gavey killed in action.
June 07 – 3213 Private Eugene ( aka Edward) Flatres killed in action.
June 08 – 3204 Private Thomas Ferbrache killed in action.
June 10 – 483369 Private Albert Gillman killed in action.
June 10 – 3226 Private James Guille died of wounds.
The Battle of the SommeJuly 1916
The Division is not directly involved in the opening phase of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. During this time (July and August) the Division remains in the north near Loos continuing with their alternate periods in and out of the line.
The 6th Royal Irish Lose More GuernseymenJuly and August 1916
The 6th RIR lose 3 more Guernseymen in July. They are :July 12 – 514049 Private Louis Orvin is killed in action.
July 12 – 3350 Private William Thoumine is killed in action.
July 17 – 498345 Private Arthur Le Page dies of wounds in hospital.
In August the 6th Royal Irish Regiment lose 5 more Guernseymen. They are :Aug 11 – 3295 Private Clifford Mitchell killed in action and buried at St Patrick’s Cemetery, Loos
Aug 17 – 3132 Sergeant Ernest Fleury killed in action
Aug 17 – 3124 Lance Corporal Charles Flux killed in action
Aug 17 – 3488 Private Thomas Russell killed in action.
Aug 19 – 3144 Sergeant Yves Le Cocq died of wounds and is buried at St Matthew’s Churchyard, Cobo, in Guernsey.
The 6th Royal Irish Leave for the Somme24th August 1916
The 6th Royal Irish Regiment leave the Loos area and move by road and rail to the Somme to join the offensive.
The Battle of the Somme : 6th Royal Irish Attack Guillemont3rd September 1916
The 6th Royal Irish regiment attack the village of Guillemont as part of the middle stages of the battle of Somme. They take it, consolidate the line, and hold it against three successive counter attacks. However it is only achieved at the cost of heavy casualties including 21 Guernseymen of whom 18 are killed most of which have no known graves. They are :
September 3rd :3456 Private James Batiste
3178 Private William Cherry
3181 Lance Corporal Charles Collings
3183 Private Eugene Coquelin
3187 Private Harry de Carteret of Sark
3188 Private Peter de Carteret of Sark
3196 Private George Dimmer
3206 Private Fred Falla
3244 Lance Corporal Albert Keyho
3259 Lance Corporal Cyril Le Lievre
3267 Lance Corporal Harold Le Page
3284 Private Nicholas Martel
5434 Lance Corporal Wilfred Mitchell
3293 Private Harold Mudge
3305 Private Basil Ozanne
3309 Private John Ozanne
3313 Lance Corporal Clifford Pattimore
3490 Private Arthur Williamson
September 8th :3205 Private Edgar Falla died of wounds
It is during this action that Sergeant Don Bisset of the Royal Irish wins his Distinguished Conduct medal. His citation states that
although badly wounded at the start of the attack he refused to leave his guns and led them through the heavy barrage to the final objective
Battle of the Somme : Royal Irish Fusiliers Attack the Combles Trench5th September 1916
The Royal Irish Fusiliers attack Combles Trench. Attacking through waist high corn they stumbled into hidden belts of barbed wire. They eventually achieve their objective but at a terrible cost with 236 killed and wounded. Amongst them 3 Guernseymen are killed.
The Battle of the Somme : 6th Royal Irish Back in the Line Again7th September 1916
The 6th Royal Irish regiment return to the front line to relieve the 8th Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Battle of the Somme : 6th Royal Irish Attack Ginchy9th September 1915
The 6th Royal Irish Regiment attack the village of Ginchy but fail to take it. The enemy was said to be “well prepared” with five machine guns lining the parapet of their objective. 7 Guernseymen from D Company are killed. The Royal Irish Fusiliers then attack and finally take the village that evening, however, 3 Guernseymen from their own D company are also killed in the action.
The Guernseymen from 6th RIR lost at Ginchy or died of wounds soon after are :2175 Sergeant Charles Austin, killed in action.
3156 Corporal Charles Barnes, killed in action.
3162 Lance Corporal Henry Bisson MM., killed in action.
3169 Private (Drummer) James Brehaut, killed in action.
3466 Lance Corporal Philip Duquemin, killed in action.
5456 Private Peter Roland (Rowland, Ruelland), killed in action.
3367 Private Edward Wood , killed in action.
When the Royal Irish Fusiliers finally take Ginchy that evening the 3 Guernsey casualties are :
Battle of the Somme : The 7th Royal Irish Rifles Sustain Guernsey Casualties9th September 1915
Although the majority of Guernseymen in the Irish Division are serving in the 6th Royal Irish Regiment and the 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers some have been drafted into the 7th Royal Irish Rifles. On the same day as the Royal Irish Regiment and Royal Irish Fusiliers sustain 10 Guernsey casualties 2 more Guernseymen from the 7th Royal Irish Rifles are also killed. They are :4080 Rifleman Harry Cauvain , killed in action.
4185 Lance Corporal George Pearce, killed in action.
The Battle of the Somme : The 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers Hold the Line10th September 1916
On the 10th September the 6th Royal Irish are relieved at dawn by the 4th Grenadier Guards. However the Royal Irish Fusiliers stay on and in holding the positions that were captured the Royal Irish Fusiliers continue to loose men.
A further 3 Guernseymen are lost over the next 2 days :Sept 10 – 21891 Private Fred Queripel, killed in action.
Sept 10 – 21901 Private Alfred Salmon killed in action.
Sept 11 – 21808 Corporal John Cluett died of wounds.
R & R for the Division11th September 1916
The 16th Division is relieved from the line and sent to the Kemmel-Poperinghe sector to rest and recouperate from their ordeal.
The Royal Irish Fusilliers are ReorganisedOctober 1916
Because of heavy losses on the Somme the 7th Battalion of the RIF is amalgamated with her sister 8th Battalion to form the 7/8 Batallion RIF.
The Division Holds the LineWinter 1916
During the winter of 1916-17 the Division cycle in and out of the line :4 days in the line
4 days reserve
8 days support.
During this time the battalions also get on with the task of training and assimilation of new soldiers.
The R.G.L.I is Formed17th December 1916
The States suspends the Militia in Guernsey & introduces the Conscription Act. Unlike the English act introduced earlier that year, no provision was made for conscientious objectors.
The R.G.L.I. has formally come into being. All the Guernsey Officers in 6th RIR & 7/8 RIF except 1 company will eventually be transferred to the 1st Service Batallion of the R.G.L.I.
By April 1917 approximately one-third of the original volunteers will be on the strength of the RGLI and the two Guernsey Companies in the 6th Royal Irish Regiment and 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers are losing their purely Guernsey characters.
Attack on Wytshaete Ridge4th March 1915
As a prelude to what would later be known as “3rd Ypres” the 6th Royal Irish Regiment and the 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers attack Wytshaete ridge in Flanders. The attack is proceeded by the exploding of 19 mines under the German lines. The 7/8th Royal Irish Fusilers see 25 men killed, including 1 Guernseyman, and 145 wounded. The attack would later be regarded as one of most successful ever on the western front.
3rd Ypres31st July 1917
On the 31st July 1917 ‘3rd Ypres’ officially starts. Unseasonable torrential rain and continual shelling have turned the battle field into a quagmire. Men literlly drown in the mud. Into this maelstrom the 6th Royal Irish Regiment and the 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers are thrown. The 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers lose 24 dead, 105 wounded and 90 Missing. 3 of the dead are Guernseymen.
Battle of Cambrai20th November 1917
The 16th Irish Division attacked Tunnel trench at Croiselles as part of the Battle of Cambrai – the first ever en masse attack with tanks. It is a huge success and the 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers achieve their goal in minutes. However 1 Jerseyman Sergeant Peter Lorier, who’d enlisted with the Guernseymen in 1915, is killed.
The RGLI is blooded as a Regiment on this day too and joins the offensive on Nine wood.
The 6th Battalion Royal Irish is Disbanded9th February 1918
The war of attrition takes it’s toll on the BEF and Brigades are reduced in size from 4 Regiments to 3. The 6th Batallion Royal Irish Regiment is therfore disbanded and it’s members incorporated into other units.
The following day, February 10th, the 7/8th Royal Irish Fusilliers is also disbanded.
Remaining Guernsey Irish Transfer to the RGLI2nd March 1918
Following the disbandment of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment and the 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers the remaing 42 Guernseymen in 6th are transferred to the 2nd Battalion and then to the 1st service Battalion of the RGLI.
The remaining 23 men in 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers are also transferred to the RGLI on this day.
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