Brief history



The Army Review

Vol.III, 192, October 1912



By CAPTAIN E.M. DORMAN, 4th Dragoon Guards,
Adjutant North Irish Horse.

The North Irish Horse were raised in 1903 under the title of "The North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry," but came into their present title in the year 1908, when they were changed from Yeomanry to Special Reserve.

The North Irish Horse and its sister regiment the South Irish Horse are unique as being the only Special Reserve Cavalry in the British Isles; and as there are no Yeomanry corps in Ireland the recruiting area thrown open to them is a very large one.

The recruiting area of the North Irish Horse is roughly the Northern half of Ireland, and in order to take full advantage of this its squadron headquarters have been widely scattered. The regiment is composed of four squadrons with headquarters at Londonderry, Enniskillen, Dundalk, and Belfast. The latter place is also the headquarters of the regiment. The Permanent Staff is composed of an adjutant, a regimental sergeant-major and four squadron sergeant-majors, who besides their ordinary duties act as recruiters.

There never has been the slightest difficulty in getting recruits, in fact double the number required could easily be enlisted, and therefore the regiment is in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose. Before a recruit is finally approved of, he has to pass a riding test under the supervision of one of the squadron officers or the adjutant. The vast majority, about 90 per cent., of the men of the regiment are farmers or farmers' sons owning their own horses, and it is this type of true yeoman that is required to fill the ranks of our Yeomanry and similar corps. A certain number of special men have, of course, to be enlisted, such as cooks, farriers, etc. The farriers enlisted are small country blacksmiths, who require little further training in their own particular sphere. The enlistment of cooks is an innovation, and was only carried out at the beginning of last year. Previously, as I believe is the case in most other similar corps, the messing was handed over to a contractor, a system which in peace time works very well and ensures a large number of men on parade; but on active service such an arrangement could of course not be made, and it is therefore unpractical.

The class of man enlisted compares, on the whole, very favourably with any other similar corps. The recruits are men of some substance, owning their own horses, and are somewhat like the Indian Silladar Cavalry. Here, then, we have splendid material to work on.

Let us, however, for a moment look at the other side of the picture. The material is indeed of the very best, but certain difficulties have to be overcome in welding it into an efficient force. The chief difficulty is the enormous area the men are enlisted from; this involves having no less than 32 drill stations with an average of 13 or 14 men to each station, and while 7 miles is the average distance which men have to ride for their drills and lectures, some have to go as much as 18 or 20 miles. Drills and lectures are nevertheless exceedingly well attended, which proves the keenness of the men, but the stations are so far apart and there are so few men at each that it is impossible to carry out any combined schemes or practical work except of the very simplest kind; anything, therefore, in the nature of practical schemes and exercises involving a number of men have to be left to the annual camp. Mounted drills during the winter are also very difficult to organize, for the men use their horses at that time for ploughing and farm work, and cannot spare them for mounted drills. It is impossible to hire horses for the men at these small stations, and as there are no cavalry regiments stationed in the district, Government horses cannot be utilized as they are by many English Yeomanry corps.

The musketry results are better every year; at nearly every drill station there is a miniature range, or one can be improvised. The annual course, for which the men come in and are billeted at their squadron headquarters, is fired during three days in the spring, good range accommodation being available at each of these stations.

The annual training, lasting 24 days, takes place in the early summer, as it is found that at that time the men can most easily get away, and their horses are not then required on the farms. The men look forward to this annual camp, for they regard it as a holiday among their friends, and one which does not cost them anything, and, indeed, puts a little money in their pockets. There is a considerable amount of Scottish blood in the North Irishman.

The list of absentees without leave from annual training is a comparatively small one, and on investigation it is generally found that the majority of the absentees have emigrated to America or the Colonies, but have not seen fit to purchase their discharges before going.

A considerable amount of work can be got through during this annual training, and its longer duration – 24 days against the 15 days of the Yeoman – gives the North Irish Horseman a considerable advantage. If, however, the training could be still further extended to a month, the greater efficiency attained would more than justify the extra expenditure involved, especially as the main expense of a camp is in erecting it and bringing men and horses by rail, and the extra seven days only involves the cost of the men's pay, and rations for men and horses.

The horses brought to camp by the men are, on the whole, very good, very few being rejected by the Board that inspects them at the beginning of the training. The quality, however, would improve if a remount officer made a practice of visiting the camp towards the end of the training period to purchase those suitable for Army purposes. At present the men find that the type of horse that they can sell best and which they find most useful to themselves all the year round is a cart of plough horse, unsuitable for fast work. If, however, there were a market for the ordinary riding or troop horse, a large number would be brought each year, and this would encourage them to breed or bring a more useful type of horse to training. The men are not allowed to bring a horse under five years of age to camp.

The discipline is very good. There is a little difficulty in getting the men to show due respect to their troop sergeants or section leaders, whom they probably call "Bill" or "Jim" in private life, but with whom they work wonderfully well at camp. There are very few cases indeed of offences which have to be brought before the commanding officer; in fact, the average is about two per training. It is absolutely essential that the commanding officer should have a free hand in administering punishment. There is one offence – viz., drunkenness – for which the only suitable punishment is instant dismissal from the corps, a punishment which is felt much more by the man than any award of detention, for he has to undergo not only the ridicule of his comrades but also that of his friends when he gets home. Certain minor offences have to be dealt with rather leniently from a Regular soldier's point of view; but, on the whole, there is very little difficulty as regards discipline. Up to the present a court martial has never had to be held on any member of the corps, and it is to be sincerely hoped that the convening of such a court will never be found to be necessary.

The present organization of the regiment seems to be very suitable, at any rate during peace time. On mobilization the regiment finds one squadron for the Expeditionary Force. Under the present arrangements the men that go to form this squadron are changed every year, so that each man gets his turn on the roll. It would, however, seem better if the same men formed this squadron without unnecessary changing. To carry this out it would be necessary to form this squadron from volunteers, and if an extra bounty of, say, £1 a year was paid to these men, it would be found that so many men would volunteer that the squadron could be composed of picked men.

The pay, allowances and bounties allowed during the annual training are as follows:–

                                                                   s. d.
A squadron sergeant-major draws                  4 4 per day
Squadron quartermaster-sergeant                  3 4   "
Sergeant                                                      2 8   "
Farrier-sergeant                                            2 10 "
Corporal                                                       2 0   "
Private                                                          1 2   "

Each N.C.O. and man draws 1s. per diem messing allowance in addition to the ordinary ration of bread and meat. Each man is allowed forage and 6s. 8d. per day for his horse, which for the training of 24 days works out at £8.

Each N.C.O. and man is also entitled to a bounty of £5 a year, provided he has attended camp and drills, and has proved himself efficient. These bounties are made up as follows:– £1 equitation bounty and £4 non-training bounty (being £1 for each quarter). Thus a private soldier can draw for the year a sum of £14 8s., exclusive of pay and allowances for three days musketry, during which time he is billeted. He is provided with clothing, saddlery, and equipment, and has only to provide himself with a pair of boots.

As regards their usefulness on service, taking into consideration their average intelligence, education, and present training, they would apparently be best employed as divisional cavalry. The men are at present only armed with a rifle, and would, therefore, if taken by surprise, and if they did not have time to dismount, be absolutely at the mercy of a cavalry soldier armed with a sword or lance. It is this lack of another arm which considerably curtails their scope of action, and makes them feel at a disadvantage with a Regular cavalryman. The present cavalry sword is not a weapon suitable for a partially trained swordsman, but if the regiment were armed with the old pattern cutting sword, which is now being relegated to the scrap-heap, the men could be trained sufficiently well in its use to make them extremely formidable as an enemy.

Care, however, would have to be taken to impress upon all ranks that the sword in their hands must only be looked on as a secondary weapon of offence. If the sword is introduced into the regiment the present rifle bucket, which is of the mounted infantry type, will have to be exchanged for that of the regular cavalryman. This latter change in itself would be a great improvement, as carrying a rifle for any distance in the present bucket with the muzzle of the rifle banging against the rider's shoulder is anything but a pleasure.

As regards the officers, the regiment is extremely fortunate in having a large portion of ex-Regular cavalry officers, who have also intimate association with the country. The commanding officer has commanded the regiment since its creation. The four squadron leaders, two of the captains, and the senior subaltern are also ex-cavalry officers. The remainder of the officers nearly all live in Ireland, and are in close touch with the men.

Examinations for promotion have now been instituted. It is hoped that officers will study and go up for them, in spite of the fact that they may find it difficult to spare the time to attend instructional classes that are held to assist in the preparation for these examinations.