Brief history

 

 

Memories of the North Irish Horse

This page includes much of the text of a booklet published to mark the centenary of the formation of the regiment in 1903, comprising the recollections of North Irish Horseman Charles Delmege Trimble. The booklet is out of print and very difficult to obtain - this was provided to me some years ago by North Irish Horseman Gerry Chester.

 

Memories
of
The North Irish Horse
by
Charles D. Trimble

 

Printed by Trimprint Ltd., Armigh
with thanks to Robinson and Mornin, Bookbinders, Belfast
for their help in its production
[2003]

 

The author wearing full dress uniform of The North Irish Horse

 

THE AUTHOR

Charles D. Trimble joined the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry in 1906 and then enlisted in The North Irish Horse on the day of its formation in 1908. He served with the regiment during the First World War, rising to the rank of squadron sergeant major before being commissioned in the Royal Artillery.

A partner in the family printing and newspaper business in Armagh. he was an accredited war correspondent at General Gort’s headquarter in the Second World War as well as being active in Civil Defence activities. He was prominent in the British Legion of which he was Chairman of No. 9 group.

These random memories of his service with The North Irish Horse were penned during his retirement and are published in the year of the regimental centenary celebrations. They have been presented to the Regimental Old Comrades Association.

Charles Trimble died in 1977. His North Irish Horse dress uniform is on display in Armagh County Museum.

 

THE NORTH OF IRELAND IMPERIAL YEOMANRY

When the British Army went into action in the South African War of 1899, it was soon evident that they were up against an enemy inferior in numbers but far more mobile. The Boers, excellent shots, using a better rifle than the British, were mounted on fast horses which enabled them to stage an attack, inflict casualties, and get away before a counter-attack.

To meet this new form of warfare, the British Government hastily formed regiments of yeomanry in Britain, made up as far as possible of men who already knew how to ride – indeed, that was said to be the only qualification – and these new formations were shipped to South Africa and into action without any training or at best with very little.

Amongst the new regiments was the 29th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, raised in Ireland, of which “C” and “D” Companies were composed almost entirely of Ulstermen, the Province then consisting of nine counties.

Quite a number of the South African Irish Yeomanry joined the new Regiments and one of these, Tpr. Thomas Moir, used to say that when General Kitchener took over command in South Africa he sent most of the English Yeomanry home, saying that they were only “De Wet’s Supply Column”. Used largely as escorts for supply columns, they were liable to be rushed and their wagons captured. The Irish Yeomanry were kept. Moir’s father, by the way, held a commission during the Crimean War in the Horse Transport Corps, which later became the Royal Army Service Corps.

Ex-members of the 29th used to claim that it was as a compliment to their work in South Africa that the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry Regiments were formed in 1902.

A study of records at the War Office proves that this was not the case, but the preliminaries of the formation of these two Regiments are interesting. The War Office files show that on 25th October, 1901, the DAAG, AF, H. le Roy Lewis, wrote to the Adjutant General that if they wanted to complete the 21 new regiments (of yeomanry) in reasonable time they would have to have two or three in Ireland.

Four days later, on October 29, the Adjutant General wrote to the Commander-in-Chief that any objection to yeomanry in Ireland was political and not military and as the Secretary of State had notified on 079/Yeo/1592 that he intended to allow yeomanry for home service to be raised in Ireland – “I know of no military objection to the proposal.” Presumably, he added, the Irish Government must be consulted.

 

DESIRABLE SAYS “BOBS”

The Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Lord Roberts, wrote to the Secretary of State, “This is a desirable proposal. You will, perhaps, communicate with the Irish Government”

The Chief Secretary for Ireland, D. Harrel, wrote “The Irish Government favour the proposal” but the G.O.C. in Ireland, the Duke of Connaught, advised “As this is a new force as far as this country is concerned, the greatest possible care should be exercised in starting it.”

He recommended that the new regiments be called the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry and the South of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry.

Lord Roberts then wrote to the Adjutant General that they could not do better than place the matter in the Duke of Connaught’s hands and ask His Royal Highness to act as he had suggested.

And so, on 24th December, 1901, King Edward VII approved of the proposed new regiments.

An objection was raised, however, the point being that the Yeomanry Act did not apply to Ireland, to which the retort was, that the Irish Yeomanry Act of the Eighteenth Century had never been repealed and use could be made of this. Red tape prevailed, however, and the Militia and Yeomanry Act of 1902 was passed to legalise the position and then the G.O.C. was told that he could proceed with the appointment of officers and the enlistment of men.

Because of these initial difficulties, the formation of the two Irish Yeomanry Regiments was never announced in Army Orders.

 

THE FIRST SQUADRONS

The Army List shows the Earl of Shaftesbury as Colonel, 12.3.02, and Capt. R. G. O. Bramston Newman, 7th Dragoon Guards, became Adjutant. 15.6.03.

Two squadrons were recruited in 1902 and the first training camp was held at Blackrock, near Dundalk, in that year. A number of men who had served with the 29th Batt. I. Y. in South Africa were amongst those who joined the new regiment.

The first list of officers appeared in the Army List in September, 1903, the dates of their commissions being 17th July. They were: Majors – Viscount Cole; R. O. Perceval-Maxwell; J. A. E. Marquess of Hamilton. Captains – C. C. D’Arcy Irvine; J. Smily; A. F. Maude. Lieutenants – H. Waring; E. C. Herdman. 2/Lieutenants – C. Norman; Hon. A. E. Mulholland; Hon. R. W. K. O’Neill. Quartermaster – Hon. Lieut. W. J. Fields.

Officers pictured in 1910.
Front row — Lt. Herdman, Lt. Magill (M.O.), Capt. Holt-Waring, Lt-Col. Maude, Col. Lord Shaftesbury, Major Lord Cole, ________, Lt. Ker, Lt. Combe.
Back row — Lt. & Q.M. ________, Lt. Grant, Lt. Ross, Capt. King-King, Capt. Lord Farnham, ________, ________.
Capt. Bramston-Newman, adjutant.

In September, 1903, also, the Regimental Colours were listed for the first time - green; Facings, white; Plume, green.

A story was told of that first camp. After a few days learning to ride in line and rudimentary mounted drill, Lord Shaftesbury decided he would like to see his command in its entirety, and so the new Regiment was formed up en mass on the Blackrock sands – both men and horses were quite new to such work.

 

CHAOS!

As the ranks were being dressed a battery of the Royal Field Artillery. then stationed in Dundalk, came along at a canter and swung into “action”. In a flurry of scattering sand the guns were unlimbered, the ammunition wagons had pulled in beside them and before the Yeomen realised what was about to happen the guns began firing – the whole movement had lasted less than a minute. The first crack of the eighteen-pounders was enough. The North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry as an organised body ceased to exist and in its place there was a widely scattered chaos of men and frightened horses, men lying on the ground, riderless horses galloping in groups, mounted figures disappearing in the distance, hauling at reins their mounts ignored. That story was told for several camps to come!

After that first year, camps were on the Curragh at Donnelly’s Hollow, and then in the angle of the Camp and Kildare roads, just outside Newbridge town. Then they went to Finner, between Ballyshannon and Bundoran in County Donegal, Magilligan in Co. Derry, Murlough in County Down beside Dundrum inner bay, and finally to Newcastle in County Down, which, it was understood, was to become the permanent camping quarters. Always they were under canvas, sometimes eight men to a bell tent, which, with saddlery and kit, was quite a tight fit.

“A” Squadron was based in Belfast and the Squadron H.Q. was beside the Regimental H.Q. in Skegoniel Avenue. “B” Squadron’s home was in Derry; “C” Squadron in Enniskillen and the recruiting ground included part of County Donegal, shared with “B”, and Leitrim, with part of the big area of Tyrone in which “B” also had a share. “D”, based on Dundalk, recruited from Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan, Louth and part of Meath.

The first Permanent Staff Regimental Sergeant-Major (there were not any WOs II in those days) was John Pittiway, a Warrant Officer, who later became Quarter Master.

In July, 1904, the Army List recorded the name of the Duke of Abercorn as Honorary Colonel (7.12.03). The Marquis of Hamilton became Second in Command and other officers gazetted were: Major – A. M. Rotheram; Lieutenant – T. F. Cooke; 2/Lieutenants – W. P. P. Archdale, F. W. Barton; Medical Officer – E. C. Thompson; Veterinary Officer – J. M. Magill.

In 1912, Lord Shaftsbury relinquished command of the Regiment, and was succeeded by Lieutentant-Colonel Eustace Maude.

Lord Shaftsbury was very proud of his Regiment and it was said that when he drove past the regimental party at the Coronation of King George V in 1911, (he was in one of the State coaches) he was seen to point them out to those accompanying him.

In 1907 and 1908, training at The Curragh, the Regiment detached troops to take part in Regular Army manoeuvres.

In the early years, as Yeomanry, the men were expected to attend a certain number of drill parades at selected centres in their squadron areas. These took place in the spring, on one afternoon a week and were followed by three days “musketry”, rifle practice on an open range and then in June all went into camp for about a fortnight; each other rank was supposed to bring his own horse, for which there was an allowance. Pay was a nominal five shillings per day (25p.) but as the cost of messing was deducted with other small items, it worked out at about a shilling (5p.) a day.

 

UNIFORM

Uniform consisted of one khaki Service Dress jacket or tunic with a stiff collar and white braid scrolls on the cuffs; one pair of khaki riding breeches with white piping on the outer seam; one pair khaki trousers; one pair of boots, brown, worn with puttees and spurs. For “Stables” there was a pair of very stiff off-white canvas trousers to go on over everything, reaching up almost to the armpits. For full dress, a bottle-green tunic, double-breasted, with white cuffs and collar patches and white piping along the seams, the skirt being outlined in white piping and buttons. Shoulder straps were of chain over white patches.

The girdle was of white and green bands. Trousers (known as overalls) were dark blue with a broad white stripe down the outer seam, fitted very tightly and strapping under the half-wellington boots, which were decorated with swan-neck spurs.

There were four different types of headdress, as they were known. For ordinary wear with service dress, a broad-brimmed slouch hat, khaki, turned up on the left side with a green and white patch on the turn-up to set off the Regimental badge of Harp, Crown and Scroll; for “Stables”, a field service cap of green with white piping along the seams and the badge in silver. The crown or centre was green and not the white adopted during World War II. Then there was a green cap with a black leather peak, with white piping along the seams and a silver badge, worn for “walking-out” in full dress and finally there was the full dress hat, with a black crown similar to a “bowler”, but with a broad thick black flat brim and a large plume of green feathers on the left side. The large silver badge was mounted on a green and white rosette on the front and the whole contraption was worn with a “cock” to the right. In shape it was reminiscent of the Italian Bersaglieri hats.

There was also a khaki cape of blanket-like weight which soaked up all the rain which fell upon it and took days to dry out. This became a greatcoat of similar material when the North Irish Horse was formed.

 

LONG LEE-ENFIELD

For arms, all non-commissioned ranks were issued with a Long Lee Enfield 303 calibre rifle, the magazine taking ten rounds of the round-nosed bullets, loaded separately, one at a time. The sights were calibrated to raise the elevation to enable aim to be taken at objects up to 1,800 yards, at which distance it would be very difficult to even see a target smaller than a house, while a dial sight on the side of the stock and fore-end indicated the elevation required for distances of up to 2,900 yards. This, it was taught, was to enable an area to be sprayed by indirect fire. Actually, the Yeomen practised at ranges up to 600 yards. Their bandoliers were of canvas webbing, relics of the South African campaign, which shrank in rain so that cartridges could not be pulled out, and swelled in heat, so that many rounds fell out and were lost. Mounted, the rifle was carried in the short M.I. type rifle bucket. [Note – in the South African War, many engagements were fought at from 1,000 to 2,000 yards.]


Murlough Camp in 1912 showing the horse lines.

 

DISCIPLINE “VERY GOOD”

There were very few absentees from annual training, those who did not turn up had generally emigrated without purchasing their discharge.

Discipline was very good; there were very, very few cases to go before the C.O. — about two per training.

For one offence — drunkenness — the only suitable punishment was instant dismissal from the Corps, a punishment much greater than any amount of detention, because of the ridicule of friends at home.

Pay was:

Squadron Sergeant Major         ...         4s. 4d. per day.
Quarter Master Sergeant          ...         3s. 4d. per day.
Sergeants         ...         ...         ...         2s. 8d. per day.
Farrier Sergeant            ...         ...         2s. l0d. per day.
Corporal          ...         ...         ...         2s. 0d. per day.
Privates            ...         ...         ...         1s. 2d. per day.

There was a messing allowance of 1s. (5p) a day in addition to the ordinary ration of bread and meat and 6s. 8d. and forage for horses. There was a bounty of £5 a year for attending camp and drills and being efficient.

In conclusion, Capt. Dorman said that the Regiment would be best employed as divisional cavalry because they were armed only with the rifle. They could get the old type cutting sword and have the M.I. rifle bucket changed for the cavalry bucket.

Both the latter recommendations were carried out in 1914, the first issue of swords being to “D” Squadron at Cople.

 

MORSE EXPERTS

It was at a camp at Newbridge that one signal sergeant came into the Mess one night grinning broadly – his signallers had been enjoying themselves, and he explained just how. They were being examined at sending messages in Morse by lamp, by Signaller instructors from the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, and were using the oil-lamp which was the regulation signal lamp of the time. This had a heavy bulls-eye glass and a clumsy noisy shutter behind it which clacked like a duck.

The instructors divided the party into two, one sending and the other reading across 200 yards or so and gave the sender parties the messages, made up of groups of “block letters.” These are much more difficult to read than words, which can often be guessed from the context. But the N.I.H. signallers hammered the letters out at such a rate that all the amazed instructors could see was a madly blinking glimmer of light from the lamp.

‘Too fast”, they objected. “No one could read that. Go slower”. But the Horsemen kept on and to the amazement of the examiners the readers at the other end turned in a perfect take. The remainder of the signallers kept it up and the instructors could do no less than give them an “excellent.” How were they to know that they were examining a party of the best telegraphists in Ulster Post Offices, to whom the clack of the lamps coming across the few hundred yards on the clear night air, was much more legible than the click of the needle on the telegraph instruments then in use in the Post Office.

 

“K.R.” THE BIBLE!

As already said, the spirit of the law rather than the strict rule was often the case. For instance, in 1906, when the first term of three years enlistment ended, there were a number of vacancies as “foundation” members of the Regiment dropped out. But there was not any lack of recruits and in Armagh that autumn an officer came down and the first batch of these, having duly been passed medically fit and able to get upon a horse facing the right way and stay there during a trot, canter and over a low, very low, hurdle, they repaired to a hotel to be sworn in.

That was long before the days of electricity and the light, from dim gas or oil lamps, was not of the best. There was some little fuss, as at first a Bible could not be found on which to administer the Oath of Allegiance. But at length a fat book with a protective cover of black cloth, was produced, and on that the ceremony proceeded.

Months later, seeing that same book in the squadron office, the author turned to the title page. Lo and behold it was not a Bible but a copy of King’s Regulations!

However, as in those days at least the Army revolved round “K.R.” and the Royal Warrant for Pay, it was perhaps not the worst beginning to a Service career.

In 1911 the Regiment sent a party to take part in the Coronation, the officers being Major H. Hamilton-Russell and Lieut. (later Major) D. A. W. Ker. The smallest man in the party of twenty was six feet tall (with the exception of the R.S.M., Mr. Pittiway).

To make up this party quite a number of sergeants and corporals divested themselves of their stripes and paraded as privates. The “establishment” of the party did not allow for more than one or two N.C.O.’s but it was the N.C.O.’s who got first chance to go!

“Fall-in” on Coronation morning was at 5.00 a.m., and in the full glory of green, silver and white the party lined up. Now the N.I.H. had never had much rifle drill – their training was that of mounted infantry – and shooting ability was considered more important than coming to an accurate “present.” So, before leaving Belfast the party had been given some hours concentrated rifle exercise, on a vacant lot at Skegoniel Avenue – “And I’ll murder the man who drops his rifle,” said Mr. Pittiway. They fell in beside their tents in Hyde Park around 5.30 a.m. in full dress, with rifle and beautifully blancoed slings which the R.S.M. had brought from H.Q. Just to make sure, he ran them up to the “present”. And as the hands carne smartly against the magazines a thick cloud of blanco burst out, whitening tunics, overalls and boots and almost hiding the line of men from view.

“Take off those _________ slings,” roared the R.S.M. “Get out the brushes.” And they brushed one another until all were presentable and at last marched off – leaving the slings behind.

The N.I.H. were posted at Apsley House. Hyde Park Corner – “No. 1 London”. The park, even at 6 am, was jammed with people; troops marching to take up their positions along the route, citizens making for a fancied vantage point to see the procession and carriages taking people in coronets and robes trying to get to the Abbey, all jammed up together. It took us an hour and a half, or perhaps more, to get the mile and a half from our tents to our section of route. And there we remained from 8 am until at 6.20 pm we were able to march back to camp.

The day after the Coronation there was a second parade, this time for the Royal “Popular” tour, which took their Majesties over a far greater extent of the capital. For this the troops, which had been four deep the day before, were reduced to a single line along the streets. The N.I.H. were in Picadilly, just outside a hospital. and when they came to the “present” as one or other notability passed they felt at times small pluckings at the backs of their tunics. Later it was found that every single button had been cut off the backs of the jackets by nurses from the hospital, lined up along the path. The Horsemen felt like birds without tails.

[page(s) missing]

[...] its own peg. One hind leg was shackled to an individual peg. If a move was made to another station, the line section heel strap and two pegs would be packed on each saddle.

In the day time, one man was detailed as “line guard”, to look after the horses, and when these were out, to see that no one came seeking to “borrow” a horse rug or stable equipment. At night a line guard of three men under a squadron NCO, took over charge in each troop, going on duty for two hours on, four off.

As for the men, each was issued with a long canvas bag known as a palliasse. There was an opening at the side and the owner stuffed his palliasse from a pile of straw; generally too much was put in at first and for a night or two they were difficult to stay on. Then they flattened out.

Pay for the North Irish Horse was at Army rates, beginning at 1s. 2d., about 6p, for a private and rising to 4s 4d. a day for a squadron sergeant-major. In addition there was 6d. a day for first class shots and 3d. for those who qualified as second class.

It was not unknown, however, when someone was putting up a hopelessly bad score on the range, for a friend to lie down in his place for a practice or two and raise the total to a more respectable figure.

This custom, completely illegal and altogether comradely, could lead at times to unexpected results. In 1914, one young officer proved a hopelessly bad shot, so when it came to the final passing out course, his place was taken by an NCO who had just failed to reach “marksman” standard and so was classed as a first class shot. But shooting for the officer, he made well over the minimum for marksman.

When the registers were back in the orderly room, a quick interchange of names gave the NCO the higher total and officer was given a “first class” he could never have reached on his own.

 

“STABLES”

The normal day during training began with morning “Stables” at 6 a.m., when horses were watered, rubbed down and given their morning ration of oats, before the men filed off to clean-up themselves and go to breakfast. It was remarkable how quickly the horses came to know the long trumpet note – “Fe-e-e-d” – which marked the end of stables. Immediately there was neighing and stamping of feet until they were able to plunge their noses into the nosebags, so that each troop sergeant could report to his officer – “AIl fed and feeding, Sir”.

Breakfast, of the bacon and eggs type with unlimited bread and butter, was quickly over and all ranks got back to the lines for a final polish-up of buttons and badges before saddling-up and filing out for parade at 8 a.m., followed by the ride out to the exercise ground.

Back to camp for about 12 noon, when horses were watered and then well groomed until, before 1 p.m. once again the long “Fe-e-e-d” rang out from the trumpet and again noses dived into nose-bags.

Dinner consisted chiefly of one main course, generally of roasts one day and stews the next, as the meat rations were distributed to give everyone a share of everything. Helpings of beef were more lavish but when mutton was on the menu it did not go so far.

In “D” Squadron it was the custom for the sergeants to take charge of the carving and apportionment of the meat, so that the helpings reached the hungry men more quickly. There were always lashings of potatoes and vegetables. Memory does not record if there was a pudding or sweet course to follow.

 

“PILLOW POUNDING”

After dinner, generally nothing to do until 3 p.m. or later and so the general custom was for an hour’s lie down.

Afternoon parades were for lectures on general subjects – horse-management and care; map-reading, care of the rifle with aiming and loading practice and so on, specialists like the signallers and scouts having their own separate spheres of interest.

Then, after about an hour, there would be a break until evening “stables”, when again the horses were watered, rubbed down and finally rugged up for the night with the remainder of their day’s ration of hay to keep them quietly munching during the evening hours.

There was usually something hot for tea, and then everyone was free until “Lights Out” at l0.15 p.m. Some rested, others dressed up and paid a visit to the nearest town or village, while some remained in camp. There was always the canteen (nothing stronger than Guinness or Bass) and there were impromptu competitions. Perhaps a little boxing, tent-pegging for the ambitious and so on.


Lord Shaftesbury leads his regiment on church parade at Murlough in 1912 with R.S.M. J. Pettiway and Capt. Bramston-Newman, adjutant.

 

A CHALLENGE

On one occasion when boxing was going on, Mr. Ker commanding No.1 Troop, “D” Squadron, came down and after watching one bout dominated by a farrier sergeant, put on the big 8 oz. gloves himself and challenged any man to take him on, promising £5 to anyone who could land a real punch on him.

Mr. Ker was well over 6 feet in height and broad in proportion, and while there were one or two takers there were not any winners of £5.

“M.I.”
Three days to learn equitation
And six months of bloody well trot.”

“And now I am M.I.” wrote Kipling of the mounted infantry of the South African war of 1899-1902 and it was as mounted infantry that the North Irish Horse were trained.

But before that training commenced, men and horses had to learn how to march in columns and singly. All the men knew something of riding though perhaps only enough to pass inspection on enlistment, and all the horses were accustomed to being saddled and ridden, but what the recruits had to learn, was how to mount and ride Army fashion, while horses which had not been on training before had to learn what Army fashion meant.

Everyone knew how to get on a horse, but in the Army it was not as simple as putting a foot in a stirrup and swinging into the saddle. Instead, the command was ‘Prepare to Mount” which meant putting the left foot into the stirrup, grabbing reins, rifle and horse’s withers with the left hand, catching the back of the saddle in the right – and waiting for the order “Mount.”

The horses did not understand this. They did not like the hard rifle banging against their shoulders and they did not understand why the rider did not get on with it. So they swung about, bumping into each other and forcing their riders to hop about and possibly when at last “Mount” was ordered, another horse would bang into them or their rider and send him sprawling to the ground.

 

DEBACLE!

So it was, that one first-day-on-parade morning, Lieutenant Ker after one such debacle told his Troop, in that slow drawl of his – “If any more of you bloody men fall off your bloody horses, you can bloody well catch them yourselves, for I am not sending any bloody men after them.”

Thereafter, if anyone did come off, they took good care to hang on to the reins.

In those days infantry moved in columns of four and mounted troops in columns of two or four. They formed up in line, numbered “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4” and got into column by wheeling in twos or fours, right or left. A similar wheel brought them back into line.

A very few hours taught the rudiments of this, and then the separate troops formed into their squadrons and learned to do the same all over again on a larger scale, moving in column of troops, thirty or more abreast, and getting into line, a hundred and twenty or more horses and men abreast, riding six inches from knee to knee, keeping line, not as easy as it sounds.

 

RECONNAISSANCE

They were taught reconnaissance work, advance, rear and flank guard work, one part of the squadron operating against another. Going into action three men of each section running up to occupy a position while the No. 3 of the Section took all four horses to cover until they were needed for advance or retreat. They worked on the open plain of the Curragh, or on the sands and sand hills of Newcastle, Dundrum, Finner and Magilligan and on the many roads of the countryside.

Then towards the last week, the four squadrons manoeuvred as a regiment in attack and retreat schemes, banging off much blank cartridge and enjoying it all.

The finale was generally an inspection by the Inspector-General Cavalry. One such was by General “Bull” Allenby, who was strong on reconnaissance and message carrying and was reported to have told the C.O. that the N.I.H. was the best Regiment outside the Regular Army that he had seen.


The Author on horseback in 1909

 

REGIMENTAL SCOUTS

A new departure was introduced into training in 1910 or thereabouts, in that a party of Regimental Scouts was formed, Lieut. S. B. Combe (the first officer to be killed in 1914) in command. The Scouts were specially trained in map-reading, compass marching and how to summarise accurately what they had seen, and remained in being until 1914. They used horses, cycles and motorcycles to get about.

 

FIRST IN FRANCE

The first man of the Regiment to land in France was probably a signal sergeant, one Sergeant McCartney of Belfast Post Office. It happened this way – Mac, with some hundred or more of the Regiment, was quartered in the furniture store in Great Georges Street in Belfast at the time a part of the Expeditionary Force was embarking there, when a message was received asking if the N.I.H. had anyone who understood wireless – then quite in its infancy. The Horse rose to the occasion: they had McCartney, who had learned something about wireless with the Ulster Volunteer Force. It did not matter where he learned it. What did matter was that here there was a man who could replace a sick operator on a transport due to leave that night for France. And so off Mac went, to return a week or two later full of stories of the landing of the B.E.F.

By that time the first Special Service Squadron had gone and Mac himself went out with the second squadron. He had also been in the Scouts at one time where his signals experience had been useful.

This second Squadron was made up from the remainder of the Regiment, with a few recruits who for some special reason were included. It was said that one of these recruits had to be shown how to load a rifle while on the troop ship, but he and a friend were both commissioned in a Regular cavalry regiment a couple of months later – it was much easier to get a commission in the field than to go through all the processes of red tape at home. Major Viscount Massereene commanded this squadron. which arrived in time to be caught up in the great Retreat and indeed took part in the Battle of Le Cateau.

After a few weeks in Great Georges Street, a move was made to Antrim, which became the Depot of the Regiment for the war. The camp was in the show grounds; tented at first, huts were soon erected and electricity was provided from a near-by saw mill. The grandstand was sheeted in and became the quarter-master’s store.

The Regimental Scouts, the best amateur horsemen in Ireland, pictured at Murlough Camp about 1912.
Front row centre – Scout Sgt. Trimble (the author), Lt. S. B. Combe and Cpl. Donaldson, who was the first casualty in action.

 

1916 IRISH REBELLION

During the 1916 Sinn Fein rebellion a squadron was sent out to “show the flag” in East Tyrone, and marched round Lough Neagh as far as Dungannon; then another squadron was ordered to make a similar march through the Antrim Glens. This left very few men in camp. but worse than this, there were only about two dozen rifles. These were kept in the quartermaster’s store, which commanded the gate and where a picket was posted each night. Then there were rumours that an attack had been planned on the police barracks at Toome, and a party was sent there at the request of the police, reducing the number of rifles in camp.

On top of this came an order that all sentries were to carry five rounds of ball ammunition. The N.I.H. rose bravely to the occasion. The rifles remained in the store with the picket, but the sentry had a clip of cartridges in his pocket in addition to a riding whip!

Luckily the collapse of the Dublin rising squashed any hopes there might have been of a rising in the North.

One recruit of a few weeks standing who had been on leave in Dublin at the time of the rising arrived back at Antrim many days overdue, but his pass had attached to it a certificate to the effect that he had proved himself an excellent soldier when a Dublin barracks to which he had made his way, was attacked. There was no C.B. for him, but congratulations.

When the British Army, following up the Germans, moved into North France and South Belgium in 1914 – Flanders – and the first Battle of Ypres began, there were many stories of spies. The Germans, as they retreated, northwards, were said to have left a network of agents behind, who used various methods to get their information across “The Line.”

Security was strict and unnecessary questions were frowned at.

“A” Squadron was now stationed in Ballieul as Army Corps cavalry, and one of their duties was to man a traffic control post at St. Jans Cappel, whence roads led northwards to The Line at Ypres and across by Vlamertinge. Many units passed the road junction at St. Jans Cappel, duly directed when necessary by the men at the post.

One afternoon a staff officer, resplendent in red tabs, rode up, dismounted and began to question the sentry about the numbers and units of troops which had passed that day. Immediately suspicious, the sentry said “You had better ask the corporal.”

Out came Corporal W______, and immediately asked to see the Officer’s credentials – some proof of his identity. But he had none, he had omitted to bring the papers with him, and promptly was told that he would have to stay there until someone came to identify him. The officer fumed and protested, but the corporal was unimpressed – the officer would have to remain under guard until he had been identified, nor was there anyone to spare to send for that identification. At length a passing despatch-rider was stopped and brought a note to the officer’s unit, and soon someone came out and identified him.

Next day that corporal was told to put up a third stripe!

 

TIME EXPIRED, NOT 19 YEARS

In the carefree days before 1914 regulations were not always strictly observed. For instance, around 1910 a stalwart lad came in to join, saying he was 16, so he was put down as 18 and signed on – his real age was 14. Towards the end of 1915 he was discharged, time expired, a corporal with the French Croix de Guerre, specially awarded. It was not until some months later that it was ruled that there was not to be any such discharge until the end of the war.

Towards the end of 1915 the author was in the Depot squadron office at Antrim, checking attestation papers, the blue forms on which a man’s service, promotions, crimes, everything, was supposed to be recorded from the time he joined until he was discharged, when Farrier-Major Mooney came in.

“What is that first medal ribbon you are wearing?” Mooney was asked, and he replied – “The Zulu War, Major.”

“But here is your attestation form and it states that your age is 34. That was was fought before you were born,” Mooney was told.

A former farrier-major in the Regular Army, Mooney knew as much or more about horses, their management, ills and cure, than many a vet. He was invaluable.

 

THE NORTH IRISH HORSE

Army reorganisation in 1908 had brought about the formation of the Territorial Army in England, but that Act did not apply to Ireland. However, the new system meant that the County Militia Regiments became what was called “Special Reserve”, a first line reserve for the Regular Army, to be mobilised on the outbreak of war and if necessary provide instant reinforcements for their County Regiments. It was decided that the Irish regiments of Yeomanry should be disbanded and two Special Reserve regiments, The North Irish Horse and the South Irish Horse, raised in their place.

The North Irish Horse was in camp at the Curragh that year and over a hundred men enlisted in the new Regiment on the first day. At training the following year, the Regiment was at full strength.

The new system brought changes. Training was now for a month, of which three weeks were spent in camp, with weekly drills and musketry as before, the firing course being that for the Regular Army. For arms the short Lee-Enfleld rifle was issued complete with bayonet, leather belt with cartridge pouches and leather bandolier, but very soon the bayonet, belt and pouches had to be returned to store, leaving only the bandolier. The new rifle was much more accurate than the old and the new Regiment made a creditable showing in the “Mad Minute”, fifteen rounds at three hundred yards; of which ten rounds had to be loaded, now by charger.

The title “Irish Horse” was not new in the British Army, as in the eighteenth century the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Dragoon Guards were known as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Irish Horse.

There were new badges and buttons, of course, the only change being the name on the scroll below the crowned harp. The slouch hat was replaced by the ordinary service dress peaked cap and the field service cap was withdrawn. Pay was at regular army rates with an £8 allowance for a horse, and a retaining fee of £4 a year.

 

ON CALL

The most important change in status, however, was that the Regiment was now one of the only three mounted Special Reserve regiments in the British Army, together with the South Irish Horse and, I think, King Edwards Horse. As such, one squadron had to be held ready to join the Expeditionary Force for service overseas on outbreak of war. This squadron was composed of one section from each troop in a squadron, a troop from each of the four squadrons, with the necessary specialists, signallers, saddlers, farriers, etc., and the men were warned individually at camp each year, so that each man had his year “on call” in turn.


‘D’ Squadron sergeants in walking out dress about 1910.
Front row – S.S.M. McMahon, R.Q.M.S. Jackson, R.S.M. Aston, Staff S.S.M. Scammell, S.Q.M.S. Downey.
Back row – Saddler Sgt. Ramage, Sgt. Lockhart, Sgt. Whiteside, Sgt. Trimble, Sgt. Thompson, Band Sgt. Brewer.

When the Regiment became Special Reserve, it was ordered that promotion to substantive rank as corporal or sergeant could go only to those who had done a course of a month with the Regular Army. One such course was held in Dublin, the sergeants going to the hussar depot at Richmond Barracks and the corporals to the cavalry regiment stationed in the Phoenix Park barracks. On these courses they were joined by NCO’s from the British yeomanry regiments.

Work on this course included a lot of foot drill, some of it with “skeleton” squadrons, so that the sergeants became used to the movements of a regiment. There was advanced map reading and position finding, mounted drill on the Fifteen Acres in the Phoenix Park, road schemes, and so on. Also, there was equitation and horse management and a time in the riding school, where they learned to go round the enclosure over hurdles on a polished saddle with stirrups crossed in front of them and arms folded, the reins hanging loosely. All the time the riding master was intoning: “Come on the next. Lean your body forward, legs, man, legs!” and occasionally “Now, who told you to get off.”

Quite a time was spent on practising rapid aimed fire with a rifle, ever trying to reach twenty or even eighteen accurately aimed shots a minute.

And so it was, that when mobilisaton orders came in August 14, 1914, the four squadrons reported to their squadron headquarters at practically full strength. Only one or at most two were missing and one of these, prevented from answering the call at first, came along happily in a week or two.

By the end of August, Antnm showgrounds had been taken over as a training depot for the duration of the war. Those left over from the two squadrons already in France became the nucleus of “D” squadron and there was a rush of recruits, both men and horses.

The Deer Park at Antrim became the training ground and soon columns of men and horses, many of each being recruits, were to be seen each morning filing out from the Depot to the Park.

The North Irish Horse was at war.

 

JOIN THE “CONTEMPTIBLES”

The Regiment had been under canvas al Newcastle in County Down in the summer of 1914 when, riding to drill and exercise on the sands, they saw on the newspaper contents bills that an Austrian Archduke had been assassinated. “That means we will soon be at war” some had predicted, while others scoffed. But on August 5 the Expeditionary Force Squadron had reported for duty and was being fitted out in Belfast. On the 7th they went to Dublin and on the 17th sailed with the Regular Army of the Irish Command for France and landed at Le Havre on August 19. On 22nd August the Squadron joined Lord French’s headquarters at Le Cateau during the retreat from Mons, and there they went into action. They then became Lord French’s Headquarters’ Cavalry, Lord Cole being squadron commander. This became “C” Squadron, after the C.O.’s peace time command.

Writing in “Irish Regiments in the First World War”, A. E. D. Harris states that on 23rd August, 1914, when the British Army halted on the retreat from Mons and fought the battle of Le Cateau, a half squadron of the North Irish Horse was ordered to join the incomplete 4th Division as divisional cavalry, but found themselves in the line beside the 2nd Bn. The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Next day, becoming separated, they were fighting with the 3rd Division before rejoining their original corps.

 

FIRST OFFICER LOST

The remainder of the Regiment mobilised at their squadron headquarters and then moved to a more or less vacant furniture repository in Great George’s Street, Belfast, where a second squadron was quickly made up. New officers were joining, some of them veterans of the South African War, and there was also brisk recruiting, a few of the new entrants being included in the squadron which sailed from Belfast on 20th August under command of Major Viscount Massereene and Ferrard. This squadron covered the retirement of the 5th Division from St. Quentin to Lagny, near Paris, and during the subsequent advance to the Marne and the Aisne. It was at the latter river that they lost their first officer, Lieut. S. B. (Barry) Combe.

Incidentally, it was said that the first member of the Regiment to account for a German beyond doubt was Farrier Sergeart Ernest Gilliland.

One of the subalterns of Lord Massereene’s command was Lieut. R. A. West, a member of an old Co. Fermanagh family from White Park, Brookeborough concerning whom there were several stories. Mr. West, who wore the South African War ribbons, joined the Regiment at Great George’s Street and was given a troop in Lord Massereene’s Squadron. But he had not been gazetted and as the time for the departure of the squadron came near, he wired the War Office asking that his Commission be confirmed. There was not any reply to that nor to a further telegram, so he sent yet one more wire, this time “reply paid.” The answer came, that he must wait his turn.

Mr. West would not wait. Late one night, a day or two before the Squadron left Belfast, he came into the makeshift orderly room in Great George’s Street and awakened the author of this article, who was sleeping on a stretcher on the floor.

“Fill in an attestation form for me” he directed and added forcibly that he was not going to wait for the War Office gazetting but would go to France as a trooper. The Form was filled in and Mr. West took it away and shortly afterwards brought it back, duly signed by Lord Massereene.

So, on 20th August Private Richard Annesley West sailed from Belfast, commanding a troop, wearing officer’s uniform, living in the Officers’ Mess, but not displaying any badges of rank. Some weeks later, he was gazetted Lieutenant and up went his stars.

Lord Massereene’s squadron was known as “A”, after his command in the pre-war regiment. When the British Army moved North, “A” Squadron became Corps Cavalry to the 2nd Army Corps under General Pulteney, one troop being detached for a time as Divisional Cavalry to the 3rd Division.

Before the end of 1914 a third squadron had been formed and this was posted to the village of Cople, near Bedford, as Divisional Cavalry to the 51st Highland Territorial Division, with which they embarked for France on 3rd May, 1915, Major A. Hamilton-Russell being in command and Major Holt Waring second in command, this being known as “D” Squadron.

To go back for a little to “A” Squadron. On the advance northwards towards the Marne, Lieut. West was in command of a patrol which, on rounding a corner in a village, was confronted by a similar patrol of Uhlans, trotting confidently towards the same corner. Mr. West did not hesitate. With a shout, he charged straight at the Germans, his troop clattering round the corner after him.

Taken by surprise, the Germans, not knowing how many more were coming, wheeled and galloped for safety, the Irish Horsemen after them. The Uhlan’s officer turned into a field and Mr. West followed and chased him round the field, the two exchanging shots and the German was killed. One or two prisoners were taken with several of the Uhlan steel lances, some of which were later to be seen in Belfast Museum.


Pictured at Cople. near Bedford prior to moving to France are 'D' Squadron sergeants.
Back row – Sgt. Ferris, Sgt. Brooks, Sgt. Green, Sgt. Sutton, Farrier Sgt. Sheridan, Saddler Sgt. Ramage.
Front row – S.S.M. Trimble, Staff S.S.M. Scammell, Farrier Major Mooney, S.Q.M.S. Downey.

In such a scrap with the Germans, Mr. West lost his regulation pattern cap, which he replaced with a rather battered slouch hat, turned up on the left; on a puggaree there was fastened an other ranks cap badge with the crown broken off. There were many in the Armentieres sector in 1914 who knew that tall figure with the battered felt hat.

 

V.C., D.S.O. AND BAR, M.C.

Later, as Acting Lieut.-Colonel attached to 6th Battalion Tank Corps, he was awarded the V.C. for valour at Courcelles and Vaulse Vrancourt on August 21 and September 2, 1918.

His name appeared in the first list of “mentions” issued by Sir John French. He won the D.S.O. while second in command of the North Somerset Yeomanry in 1917. Seconded for duty with the Tank Corps he gained the Military Cross and a Bar to his D.S.O. in August, 1918.

He was killed in action on 2nd September, 1918, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery, leadership, and self-sacrifice.”

Realising that there was a danger of his battalion of the Tank Corps giving way during an attack by the Germans, Colonel West rode up and down in front of his men, “in face of certain death,” encouraging the troops and calling upon them to “Stick it, men,” “Show them fight,” and “For God’s sake put up a good fight.” He fell, riddled by machine-gun bullets.

 

A REGIMENT AGAIN

Two further squadrons went out to France, one on 17th November, 1915, and the other on 11th January, 1916.

In June, 1916, three squadrons, “C” and “D” with one of the later arrivals, commanded by Major Finlay, were formed into one Regiment, The 1st North Irish Horse. and became 7th Corps Cavalry. Lord Cole was the Commanding Officer.

This Regiment was dismounted in 1918 and given bicycles, and on these took part in the campaign against the retreating German Forces until the Armistice.

The remaining two squadrons, commanded by Major Holt Waring and Major Bramston Newman, were joined by a Service Squadron of the 6th Royal Inniskilling Dragoons and formed into the 2nd North Irish Horse. This became 10th Corps Cavalry.

On 20th September, 1917, the 2nd Regiment was dismounted and the personnel, after a spell of infantry training, joined the 36th Ulster Division.

The N.I.H. squadrons were posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers which then became the 9th Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers – North Irish Horse in the Army List. The third squadron, the Inniskilling Dragoons, went to the 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

The Irish Fusiliers said it was the best reinforcement they had ever received.

After the war, the Regiment was not disbanded but disembodied. Its name remained in the Army List with that of one officer, Major Sir Ronald Ross. who when the Regiment was again brought to life in 1939, became Commanding Officer.

In the first World War, the North Irish Horse was the first unit outside the regular army to go into action in France.

 

THE RECORD

In all, 70 officers and 1,931 other ranks served in a theatre of war as volunteers up to January, 1916, and of these 27 officers and 123 other ranks were killed in action. Commissions were given to 118 other ranks.

One troop was posted from France to Egypt for service in the Military Mounted Police, to which corps quite a number of N.C.O.s and men were lent and subsequently transferred in France, being used at first for traffic control.

An unusual posting was that of one trooper from “A” Squadron. who served on the aerodrome at Bailleul as groom to a Colonel of the Royal Flying Corps. A horse was the most practical method for the officer to get round and across his flying field, which, as was usual in those days, was simply a grass field.

Decorations awarded to the personnel of the North Irish Horse in the war of 1914-1918 were:

V.C.     ...         ...         ...         ...         1
C.M.G.            ...         ...         ...          1
D.S.O. ...         ...         ...         ...         4
M.C.    ...         ...         ...         ...         9
M.M.   ...         ...         ...         ...        24
M.S.M.            ...         ...         ...          5
Croix de Guerre           ...         ...          1
Medalle Militaire           ...         ...           2
Mentions in Despatches            ...        23

 

A UNIQUE TITLE

Writing in “The Army Review”, Vol. II, No. 8, Oct., 1912, Capt. E. M. Dorman, who had succeeded Capt. Bramston-Newman as Adjutant of the N.I.H., recalled the permanent staff had consisted of an Adjutant, a Regimental Sergeant Major and four Squadron Sergeant Majors, who were also recruiters. There was never any difficulty in getting recruits, however, and double the number could easily have been recruited: each recruit had to pass a riding test under the supervision of a squadron officer or the adjutant.

“The vast majority, about ninety per cent, are farmers’ sons owning their own horses and it is this type of true yeoman which is required to fill the ranks of our yeomanry and similar regiments,” wrote Capt. Dorman.

“The recruits are men of some substance, owning their own horses and are something like the Indian Silladar cavalry. Here, then, we have splendid material to work on.”

Difficulties experienced included the fact that there were seventeen local drill stations with 13 or 14 men each with an average of seven miles to go, but although others had as much as 18 or 20 miles to travel, the drills and lectures were well attended.

Cavalry horses were not available for winter mounted drills as farm horses at this time were busy in the fields.

Annual training was 24 days in the early summer, a time when the men found it easiest to get away – “They regard it as a holiday amongst their friends and one which does not cost anything and indeed, puts a little money into their pockets” ... “There is a considerable amount of Scottish blood in the North Irishman.”

 

REGIMENTAL SPIRIT

Major Hamilton Russell’s “D” Squadron went to France as Divisional Cavalry to the 51st Highland Division, Territorial Army, which before embarkation was stationed in and around Bedford. The North Irish Horse were billeted in the village of Cople.

Most of the other ranks in the squadron were comparatively well off and did not miss the loss of pay resulting from being a few days late when returning from leave.

To counter this, the C.O. ruled that all leave would stop in any troop until all the men on leave from that troop had returned. It so happened that the first to fall foul of this order were two men who had previous service in the regular army and who had earned a reputation as being “old soldiers.” Brought before Major Holt Waring, temporarily in command, they were surprised at being let off with the minimum penalty of forfeiting two days pay. The sting was in the Major’s comment – “You have stopped ail leave in your troop for two days.”

That night there was a knock at the door of the Squadron office and the two absentees came in – “You sent for us, Sergeant-Major,” they said.

“I did not and I don’t want to see you,” replied the S.S.M., and the two left, grumbling. Then there was the sound of a scuffle in the yard outside, followed by silence.

Five minutes or more later, the two old sweats burst into the office. They were dripping wet from head to toe and demanded to see the major at once. Corporal M________ and others had caught them, they said, wrapped them in blankets and soused them in the water troughs. One said that he had been pushed under a cross bar and had been almost drowned.

They were told that they could parade at “Office” in the morning, which they did and made their complaint, so an inquiry was held. Corporal M was asked if he had led the ducking party and replied that he had. The reason – “We felt these two were not pulling their weight and we wanted to make them better soldiers.”

Major Waring and the other officers “approved” the men’s action, so the two victims complained to Brigade and then to Division and in each case the finding of the original Court of Inquiry was confirmed and indeed the troop was commended for keenness.

Before an appeal to Command could be lodged, the Division moved overseas with two very chastened old soldiers.

 

THAT WHICH WILL NOT DIE

It has been said that so long as one man who has served in it remains alive, the spirit of a good regiment cannot, will not, die.

The truth of this was strikingly exemplified at the great parade of ex-servicemen which formed part of the ceremonial of the Coronation of King George V in 1937, when, in Hyde Park in London, ninety thousand ex-servicemen, ten abreast, marched past the King and Queen.

In the 90,000 were the representatives of the former Irish regiments, disbanded some fifteen years before, when Ireland was divided. They came not in hundreds but in thousands; the ordinary passenger boats from Dublin, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) and Rosslare could not cope with the rush and so a special boat was put on, and crowded.

They marched past as Regiments. There was the old 18th Royal Irish Regiment, last survivor of the nineteen Irish infantry regiments of former days. Then came the Connaught Rangers, whom Wellington’s General Picton called the Devil’s Own because of their undaunted bravery; some said they also earned the title in other ways.

The Leinsters, who joined the British Army from the East India Company’s forces, had been known as the Royal Canadians and the Munsters who were another East India Company regiment, earned the nick name of The Dirty Shirts, because at Delhi in 1857 they discarded their jackets so as to be able to fight better. The Dublin Fusiliers, once known as The Lambs and also as the Old Toughs because of their long service in India, were there, and the South Irish Horse, who came over some days early and were the guests of the London Irish. Though disbanded, the Regimental spirit refused to die, and what a wonderful reception the thousands of spectators gave them.

And so it was with the North Irish Horse. “Disembodied” the Regiment might be, but its spirit lived on in the Old Comrades’ Association, and when the Regiment was given a new body in the late nineteen-thirties, there was not any lack of recruits who soon were forged into a unit which in North Africa and in Italy built upon and enhanced the traditions of 1908-1918. The story of the Regiment in the 1939-1945 conflict has been recorded in another work.

To-day, that spirit is still very much alive, as anyone who has been at the Old Comrades’ Association gatherings each year well knows.

The North Irish Horse will not die so long as a single man who has served in the Regiment remains alive!