17th December 1920 the 1st Bn left Bhurtpore Barracks, Tidworth, by train and embarked at Southampton for Queenstown (Cork). By the 18th the Battalion was installed in Kilworth, Co. Cork with detachments at Moore Park (Fermoy) and Michelstown. Here they stayed until April 1921 when the Battalion moved to Kanturk with detachments at Newmarket and Banteer. The immediate surrounding countryside was fairly quiet but bands of IRA travelled from place to place billeting themselves on the inhabitants and laying ambushes for convoys or attacking police barracks. The operational role of the Battalion was to restore order in their area, arrest known rebels, and provide escorts for lorry convoys.
To implement this task the Battalion carried out cordons and searches and frequent day and night patrols. Such motor transport as was available was not suited for patrol operations and mobility was gained by the use of bicycles of which the Battalion had 500. These were preferred as they were silent and gave greater freedom of movement at night. The main problem was to avoid the civilian population who would pass the word around that the military were out and about. The Battalion Scout Platoon under Lieut. Nap Grazebrook, the IO, was very active and participated in most of the patrols sent out. Numerous arrests were made in the first 6 months and many arms caches were discovered. The most successful operation was at Kiskeam in May 1921.
Kishkeam, Ireland, 15th May 1921
(Back Badge, December 1957)
The 28th were stationed in the workhouse at Kanturk, a small town in Co. Cork, not far from the Kerry border. For some months we shared this building with the inmates who lived above us; this meant that fleas kept dropping down upon us, we all became very adept at flea catching. We soon discovered that our movements were being reported to the IRA by the workhouse master. As there was only one exit big enough for our MT and one small door in the wall leading to the recreation field, it was impossible to leave the workouse unknown to this ever observant man. Nap Grazebrook, our Battalion Intelligence Officer, got round this by pitching tents in the field, where we sometimes slept on the grounds that overcowding of the building was unhealthy; from the tents, in the dark, a force on foot could disappear with no one any the wiser. I remember Major Beasley coming in to dinner one evening looking very pleased with himself; he told us that he had found a real bath in the building and enjoyed a good hot bath. He was somewhat deflated when he was told that bathroom was for washing corpses before burial.
In May 1921, information was received that Sean Moylan, Area Commandant IRA, with an active service gang had moved into our Battalion area, and plans were made for their capture, we knew where they were supposed to be but no detailed reconnaissance was possible or the show would have been given away. The operation was under the command of Nap Grazebrook and the following officers took part, Nap Grazebrook, Armine Morris, Bertie Temple, Manley James, Vivian Ladds, and CSM Reece. Each officer or WO had a party of eight. The idea was that, having slept in the tents for some days, we were to move across country the first night, hide up in a wood for a day, and the next night surround three sides of the area in which the IRA were. The fourth side would be closed by cyclists coming from Kanturk. Each party was to start from a different point and converge on the centre, all buildings were to be searched and all men brought in. If shooting was heard, parties were to march to the sound of the guns, because one party alone might well be outnumbered.
We slid silently out of the tents at 0100 hrs on 15th May 1921, having crossed the fields and climbed 98 Irish banks, we arrived at the location of the wood at about 0400 hrs, only to find that it had been chopped down! This was awkward as the only other cover was a barn on a slope in full view of the village of Boheboy. It would soon be light and so we took the barn, which was already occupied by cows. We managed to squeeze 60 officers and men and 4 Royal Irish Constabulary sergeants into this barn. We watched the inhabitants of the village go to Sunday Mass - I munched my biscuit and realised that this was my 22nd birthday. At about 12 noon the farmer who owned the barn decided to come and feed his cows. As he walked up the hill we wondered how to deal with the situation. As he opened the door and moved into the dark barn, hands seized him and he was told to keep quiet. We could not keep him long or he would be missed; and so the RIC told him that we knew exactly who he was and that he would be being watched and that if he said anything he and his family would suffer the direst consequences - he went off a very frightened man.
Night came at long last and we moved off across country again. Finally we reached our rendezvous and the parties made off to their appointed starting places from which they were to close in on two farms where we hoped to find the IRA. By this time the cyclists, under Sabbatella and J.H.F. Harvey, had arrived at their rendezvous too. From this point I can only tell about my own party.
Our final rendezvous was a farm which we surrounded. I knocked at the locked door which after much whispering was opened by an old man, who put up his hands in horror and said, "Be Jasus its the military" and ran back into the house, closely followed by yours truly and a corporal. We searched the old man's bed for arms, but none were found. After searching the ground floor we proceeded upstairs, where we found the farmer, aged about 40, his brother, aged about 35, and two sisters, aged about 25 and 30, all in the same bed. The corporal was horrified. We found nothing, but took the two farmers with us just in case. As we were climbing a bank near the farm we were greeted by rifle fire, very heavy by Irish standards, I think now that it might have been our own cyclists. We then heard firing from another farm, where we found Armine Morris and two parties in a defensive position. He tolde us that the IRA were about and that Bertie Temple had been fired upon with a revolver at almost point-blank range, but he was not hit. We moved off to the right of the farm - by this time it was getting light. We found Grazebrook, Temple and his party searching some bushes. I heard a shout and one of the men brought in a prisoner, armed with a loaded revolver and two Mills bombs - this person turned out to be Sean Moylan; later we rounded up 14 of the gang. On searching the area an RIC sergt. walking with Manley James, found a cache of arms containing a Hotchkiss gun which had been captured from the 17th Lancers at Mallow some months previously, another revolver, ammunition, telephone apparatus, and a cheque for £115 IRA pay.
After all this we marched back to Kishkeam, where we were glad to find transport under Captain Halford to help us back to Kanturk with the prisoners. Soon after this the inmates of the workhouse were moved to another workhouse and we had the building to ourselves; much creosote was used.
Note: Sean Moylan, just before his capture, had been promoted commander of the newly formed IRA 2nd North Cork Brigade. In civil life he was a building contractor at Newmarket and an MP for NE Cork. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, but as an MP he was released under a truce a few months later and took part in the treaty talks. He remained in de Valera's Fianna Fail party and went on to become Minister for Agriculture. He died in office last month. Among the papers captured at Kishkeam were many secret codes, orders of battle, nominal rolls of the IRA men, etc. (R.M. Grazebrook)
For the remainder of 1921 the Battalion continued its routine of patrolling, and as the "peace talks" progressed, some normality returned to the area.
The final order of the day issued in January 1922 by General Strickland, CO of the 6th Division:
"The time has come for the 6th Division, constituted for service in the South of Ireland, is about to be broken up. We have had 2 years of severe strain and exceptional hard work. You have been called upon to perform the most difficult, dangerous and repugnant duties, in fact the most difficult and unpleasant that soldiers can be called upon to carry out.
You have been provoked beyond endurance but your discipline has stood the test, and throughout these trying times, you have shown the most admirable restraint, good nature and impartiality. In so doing you have upheld the name of the British Army and that of your own Unit. On leaving this Division you have the great satisfaction of knowing that your duty has been nobly done. You have fought with clean hands, and though in many cases you have inspired fear yet it has been mingled with a feeling of respect.
In spite of hard and strenuous duties, leaving little time for regular training, yet some of you are now better trained than before by reason of the valuable experiences you have gained, which will stand you in good stead when you are are liberty to carry out normal training. The Division, in spite of all its difficulties, has maintained a high standard of discipline, smartness, and turn-out on which you are greatly to be congratulated. I much regret losing you all from my Command, and I offer you my deep gratitude for your discipline, loyal and unstinted support, and for your high soldiering qualities. You may well feel proud that you have emerged from these trials with the reputation you have rightly earned.
I wish you all the very best of luck.
Commanding 6th Division."
The Battalion arrived back in Tidworth on 3rd Feb. 1922 and on 27th March 1922 left for Beuthen in Upper Silesia.
Ireland - 50 years ago
A personal memory
by A.H. Richards, 1st Battalion
(Back Badge, 1972)
December 1920, Tidworth and the majority of the Battalion were on annual Christmas leave from which we were recalled. Our destination was Kilworth Camp, Co. Cork. The main road, Fermoy to Michelstown, went right through the camp, our own quarters being on one side and the IRA "cage" on the other side. Movable barriers were placed at each end of the dividing road and were manned at all times. We had not been in the camp many nights when there was an alarm. It was thought that there was an attack taking place on the perimeter. It was in fact a false alarm, the enemy consisting of a number of donkeys one of which, I beleive, was killed by Lewis gun fire.
The main hardship experienced during the first few weeks was the fact that no money was available for pay. Subsequently the PRI issued chits to be exchanged at the Navy and Army Canteen Board shop, this was before the advant of the NAAFI. There was very little to change the chits for however. We were virtually confined to camp since we were right in the wilds with nowhere to go. Our main duties consisted of main guard and "cage" guard over 48-hour periods. It was quite a relief to go out on stunts, as we called the operations. We were able to scrounge cups of tea and an occasional meal at lonely farmhouses.
The move to Kanturk came as a very welcome relief. Here we occupied the workhouse, and what a filthy hole it was. There were no kitchens, lavatories or wash-places. Field kitchens, Sawyer stoves and Aldershot ovens came into their own. Rations in those days were poor compared with today's standards. Only choice, "take it, or leave it."
Field latrines had to be dug fairly frequently and buckets were issued for washing. There were no lights in the long barrack-like room. The only lighting we had was candles, not issued I might add, but paid for out of our own pockets. There were no beds, so we slept on the bare boards until we left in February 1922. Bathing took place in the river Andula which ran through the village. There was no canteen but the PRI did set up a shop but all that was available were cigarettes and chocolate biscuits. The only place that we could go to relax in Kanturk was the local pub in the market place. The locals were quite affable and we drank with them, even though we knew that most of them were at least IRA sympathisers, but in the main they were friendly.
The main night operations consisted of patrolling the railway lines or guarding bridges and searching farmhouses. The IRA often blew holes in the road to prevent our movements but this was overcome by carrying long steel girders on the Crossley tenders and which were placed across the holes. At any time of the day or night we might suddenly be alerted and the order of the day was Bondook, Bandolier and Bike and away we went. The bicycles were the great heavy things from World War One and extremely tiring. Whatever time of day or night we sallied forth, the "conchies" would start up and the element of surprise was lost.
I am pleased to recall that the Battalion suffered only one fatal casualty during the tour, in the person of Drummer Marquis, from the Channel Islands, who was a close friend of mine. He was accidentally killed by a member of our own unit who was in the turret of the armoured car whilst on an operation and interfered with the machine gun wihtout authority.
The Moylan operation recalls vivid memories. I was one of the 58 other ranks and was in the section with CSM Breezer Reece, DCM. The section was commanded, I think, by Lt. Morris who was normally Transport Officer. As we approached the objective through a narrow lane I am sure that Moylan fired a pistol at Reece at point blank range but missed. At Moylan's Court Martial at Cork I feel sure he was sentenced to death but the Armsistice came just in time to save him and he was released. He actually came to Kanturk and sought out CSM Reece for a friendly chat with him and others including myself. We gained the impression that he had been a sergeant in the Machine Gun Corps during the war in France.
At last operations came to an end and we thankfully returned to Tidworth to await posting to Germany. At this time we lost our Regimental numbers and collected our new Army numbers. Mine changed from 26570 to 5172577.