Second Lieutenant Robert Birnie


Robert Birnie was born on 5 March 1892 at Pluck, Manorcunningham, County Donegal, the second of two children of carpenter John Birnie and his wife Eliza Ann (nee McKnight). Robert's mother died in childbirth before his second birthday and just over a year later his father remarried. Robert and his sister Maggie were raised by their uncle, Robert Birnie, a farmer and naval pensioner, at Dromore, County Donegal. He was educated at Barkhall National School, Letterkenny.

Birnie enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Letterkenny on 26 January 1912 (No.658 – later Corps of Hussars No.71058). On 17 August 1914 he embarked for France with A Squadron, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne.

In February 1915 Birnie was hospitalised, suffering from measles and scarlet fever, and on 2 April he was sent home to recuperate. Soon after, he reported for duty at the regimental depot at Antrim, where he was posted to F Squadron. He was promoted to corporal on 28 July 1915.

On 17 November 1915 he embarked for France with F Squadron, which was then serving as divisional cavalry to the 33rd Division. In June 1916 F Squadron joined with C Squadron and the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps. Birnie was promoted to lance sergeant on 22 February 1917 and sergeant the following month.

On 27 August 1917 he applied for a commission in the infantry, nominating the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as his preferred regiment. He left France for officer training on 25 September. After a period of leave he reported for duty at the No.7 Officer Cadet Battalion, Fermoy, on 9 November 1917.

Birnie was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant on 1 May 1918, and posted to the Leinster Regiment. He embarked for France at the end of July, joining the 6th Battalion at Abancourt with eight other newly-commissioned officers on 30 August. However, nine days later orders were received that the battalion would be disbanded to help reinforce other units of the division. Birnie was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment, but it appears he was assigned to other duties at the the Infantry Base Depot at Calais until 16 November, when he was assigned to a repatriated prisoners' camp.

Birnie left France for the UK on 4 February 1919 and was demobilised two days later. He relinquished his commission on 1 September 1921.