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Sergeant Richard Irwin


Irwin 1


Irwin 2


Richard Irwin was born on 18 May 1885 at Waringstown, County Down, son of damask weaver Samuel Irwin and his wife Margaret (nee Maguire). Richard followed his father's trade – by 1914 he gave his trade as a power loom damask weaver.

He married Margaret Jane Copeland in 1913 and their child Sarah was born at Tullynacross the following year.

Before the war Irwin was a drill sergeant in the Waringstown Company of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Orange Lodge secretary. He was a well known local sportsman, playing in goals for Glenavon Reserves for many years, as well as turning out regularly for the first team. He was an all-round cricketer, playing for Waringstown second team regularly and assisted the first team in the 1911 cup final against North Down.

Between June and November 1909 he enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Waringstown (No.398).

On 20 August 1914 he embarked for France as part of C Squadron, seeing action in the Retreat from Mons and Advance to the Aisne. During the first months of the war a number of Irwin's letters home were published in the local press:

Writing to his brother, Mr. Samuel Irwin, Waringstown, Sergeant Richard Irwin, of the North Irish Horse, who is serving at the front, says:- "I am in the very best of health and spirits, and so are all the boys of the Waringstown troop with me, except John Sands, of Victoria Street, Lurgan, who was wounded in the foot. We have had it pretty rough since we came out here. We are under the captaincy of Mr. S. B. Combe, and I would say without fear of contradiction that a more kindly officer never wore his Majesty's uniform. He sees that we are properly looked after; in fact, our comfort is his sole study. We are at present engaged, and, if lucky enough to pull through, I will tell you where and all about it. The North Irish Horse have by no means disgraced Ulster; on the contrary, they have won a name for themselves. Although it is not all sunshine out here, we are ever ready and willing to brave the elements for King and country, and, if spared to return home, to do the same for Ulster. I do sincerely hope and trust that the day is not far distant when the Union Jack will proudly float over Berlin, and that the cursed savage system of Prussian militarism may be crushed for all time. We see a Belfast paper fairly often. Of course, they are a bit old when they reach us. Kindly remember me to Waringstown Company U.V.F., and their company commanders, Messrs. Davies and Pennington; members of cricket club, and No. 477.
(Belfast News-Letter, 16 October 1914)

Sergeant Richard Irwin, North Irish Horse, of Waringstown, writing from France to Mr. Jas. Pennington, linen manufacturer, Lurgan, says:- "So you are still taking the same hearty interest in the Ulster Volunteers in Waringstown. Keep it up! I see some of the Volunteers have joined Lord Kitchener's Army. Bravo, Waringstown! When all is over, and Germany well beaten, it will be said that Waringstown has done its duty to King and country. All the boys here are doing well. We get plenty to eat, and an odd smoke; so we are not badly off. We thought it a bit rough at first, but have got used to it now. I am very sorry that Lieutenant Combe ... has been captured. Of course he will be all right, but we will miss him, for he was loved by everyone of us. He was a gentleman and every inch a soldier. You might give my best wishes to the company and tell them I am always glad to hear from them."
(Belfast News-Letter, 24 October 1914)

Sergeant Richard Irwin, North Irish Horse, writing to his brother, Mr. Samuel Irwin, of Waringstown, says - All the boys of the Waringstown troop and myself are in the very pink of condition and prepared for any eventualities that may arise. Major Waring has joined us and I can assure you we are proud to have him as our squadron leader, for in him we have an out-and-out gentleman and officer. The fact is we could not be better officered than we are. Mr. F. G. Uprichard has also joined us, so I think on the whole West Down is well represented. I understand that there is to be nothing but friendly cricket matches in Waringstown this summer. What will the boys do who are afraid to enlist in order to spend their evenings and Saturday afternoons? Are these the men (pardon me for calling them names) on whom Ulster is to depend to defend her civil and religious freedom? If so, God help her. We are under a deep debt of gratitude to Miss Atkinson of the Rectory, and other ladies about the village who have shown us such immense kindness in the way of sending us comforts, &c., and we do feel certain God will bless their philanthropy. I only wish the boys had the same patriotic spirit; there would not be so many who are physically fit shooting marbles every evening. What a pity conscription is not put into force immediately and cowards sent to the trenches without option. It is most essential that no time should be lost in screwing up the slackers and shirkers to a due sense of their responsibility.
(Belfast News-Letter, 8 June 1915)

In June 1916 C Squadron joined F Squadron and the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps until August 1917. The following month saw the regiment dismounted and most of its officers and men transferred to the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers. Irwin, like most of the regiment, joined the battalion on 20 September. He was issued a new number – 41268 – and posted to C Company.

On the night of 3 November 1917 C Company mounted a major raid on the German trenches near Havrincourt on the Cambrai front. Irwin was one of a number killed during the raid. The battalion war diary for that day states:

At 4.30 p.m. 'C' Coy left Ruyaulcourt and marched up to the line to carry out a raid. The enemy's front line was successfully penetrated, from the Canal ... to about 150 [yards] E of it. The fighting was very severe as the enemy refused to surrender. Our men stayed in the enemy trenches for twenty min. and bayonetted and shot at least forty Germans. We suffered some casualties, mostly from bombs:- 1 officer severely wounded; 1 officer slightly wounded; 1 N.C.O. killed; 3 O.R. missing, believed killed; 13 O.R. wounded; 1 R.E. (N.C.O.) severely wounded.

The following letter was received by Irwin's widow in December 1917:

Dear Mrs Irwin. I would have written to you very much sooner only I was dangerously hit myself the night your husband was killed and when able to write had to get your address from the battalion. On account of recent movements it has taken till today for me to receive it. I do not want to stir up your sorrow afresh, but I simply must write and tell you how much I thought of him. I have been in charge of his troop since August 1916 and when we joined the Fusiliers lately, we were in the same company and on the night of the raid he was with me at the head of our party and I always felt that when he was with me I had a good pal as well as a good Serjeant, God himself only knows why I should have lived and he taken, ever since I was out of danger I have felt the loss of a good friend. Please if there is anything I can do let me know. I am still in bed and will not be up for a couple of weeks yet, I got six wounds but the dangerous one was a piece of shell that ripped up my lung. Please write if there is any information I can give you and believe me.
Yours very sincerely W.H. Hutchinson Lt.

A second letter from the officer followed a week later:

Dear Mrs Irwin. I was very glad to hear from you and to know that you had received my letter. You asked me about your husband's last moments. As far as I know he was unconscious when the stretcher bearers went to bring him in and I understand that he died before he was actually brought to our lines. If you know any of the Boys out there I am sure they could tell you more details, but you see I was hit practically at the same time, but being able to walk a little I got on a bit before I collapsed and was taken back by some of the men returning from the enemy lines. I hope you will not be angry at the enclosed, which I want you to accept as a little xmas box for the little ones. It will be a sad time for you and if this little token of my sympathy will help to give pleasure to the children and through them to yourself, believe me it will be a very great pleasure in-deed.
Sincerely W.H.Hutchinson

Sergeant Irwin is buried at Neuville-Bourjonval British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France, grave E.17. His gravestone inscription reads:




Irwin 3


Irwin 4


The images of Sgt Irwin, some of the biographical information, and the letters from Lieutenant Hutchinson have been sourced from The Story of a Banner: Waringstown during World War 1, by Leslie Elliott and David Stevenson.

Image of Sergeant Irwin's gravestone Copyright © Phillip Tardif with all rights reserved as set out in this Use of Material policy.