With the Ulster Division in France / A Story of the 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrim Volunteers), From Bordon to Thiepval.

With the Ulster Division in France / A Story of the 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrim Volunteers), From Bordon to Thiepval.

Author:
Arthur Purefoy Irwin) A. P. I. (Samuels S.
Author:
Arthur Purefoy Irwin) A. P. I. (Samuels S.
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Samuels, Dorothy Gage
World War
1914-1918 — Regimental histories — Great Britain
Great Britain. Army. Royal Irish Rifles. Battalion
11th — History
With the Ulster Division in France
A Story of the 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrim Volunteers), From Bordon to Thiepval.
Transcriber’s Note:
Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible, including inconsistent use of accents. Some changes have been made. They are listed at the end of the text. Illustrations have been moved.
The cover image for the e-book version was created by the transcriber.
A larger version of the map of Thiepval Wood, G. Sector can be seen by clicking on the image.

With the Ulster Division in France.

From Bordon to Thiepval.
A Story of the 11th Battalion
ROYAL IRISH RIFLES
(South Antrim Volunteers).


THIS BOOK
IS
Dedicated to the people of Ulster

In remembrance of those who have given their lives for their King and Country.
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WITH
THE ULSTER DIVISION
IN FRANCE.

A STORY OF THE 11th BATTALION
ROYAL IRISH RIFLES
(South Antrim Volunteers),
From BORDON to THIEPVAL.
IN FOUR PARTS,
INCLUDING PHOTOGRAPHS AND MAPS.
BY

A.P.I.S. AND D.G.S.

“The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record:
Such a sleep they sleep—the men I loved,
I think that we shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.”
From “The Passing of Arthur,”
Lord Tennyson.


Belfast: WILLIAM MULLAN & SON, 4 Donegall Place.
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THE KING REVIEWING THE ULSTER DIVISION.


PREFACE.

The appearance of this little book needs a word of explanation. While at the front with the Ulster Division, the late Captain A. P. I. Samuels, had kept a very complete record of events, and collected all the material available, with the object of being in a position, some day, to publish an account of the doings of the Division, and particularly of his own Battalion, the 11th Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrim Volunteers.) It has been willed, however, that he should not be spared to carry out his intention. Like so many of his gallant comrades he gave his life for his country, being killed in action on September 24th, 1916. His name is now on Ulster’s Roll of Honour, among those whose death has brought unspeakable grief to thousands of our homes, and yet has filled the hearts of Ulstermen and women with pride, and bequeathed such renown to our Province as will last while it endures. His papers, and the materials he had gathered have naturally come into my hands, and I have endeavoured, though in a very small and inadequate manner, to carry out the purpose for which they were collected.
This little book does not profess to be in any way a history of the Ulster Division, nor even of the 11th Batt. Royal Irish Rifles. Being compiled from the diary of Captain Samuels, supplemented by the records he was able to obtain, its scope is necessarily limited, and the story closes with the historic advance of the Ulster Division on the Somme at Thiepval on 1st July, 1916. In some respects this necessary limitation is a fitting one. To many in Ulster this great event marks in reality the passing of the glorious Division recruited during the first six months of the war, trained by Battalions in various camps in Ireland, and finally, as a Complete Division, at Seaford and Borden, before being sent to France. True, those permitted to survive that awful shock of July 1st, and those drafts in reserve at home remained to carry the fame of Ulster to Messines Ridge and Cambrai, but the Division was never again quite the same as before that memorable day. At that time it was unique. All its members were identified with the Northern Province. Each Battalion was recruited from some particular part, and even small districts and villages were represented separately in the Companies and Platoons. It was inevitable that after the Somme battle distinctive units should become merged, and that as the war progressed officers and men should find their way to the 36th Division who were not strictly representative of Ulster.
It is hoped that these memoirs may be of interest to Ulster people as describing the everyday life of a unit of their Division during its first eight months in France before the novelty of the life in billets and in trenches had worn off, and become merely monotonous, and while the point of view was still that of the native Ulsterman rather than the British soldier.

THE REVIEW OF THE ULSTER DIVISION.


PART I.

We fell in at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of October 4, 1915, on the parade ground of St. Lucia Barracks, Borden. So mechanical a proceeding is a regimental parade, and so extremely heavy were the packs that we carried, that there was little opportunity for pondering over the changed conditions that we were soon to undergo. As far as the men were concerned—and the same applied to a large number of the officers—they had left their homes and all that home implied when they left Ireland three months before.
As we marched to the station we were struck by the apathy displayed by the few civilians we saw. There was no cheering, waving of handkerchiefs, or kissing of hands; even the children, making mud pies on the side of the road did not trouble to look up. We were only one of the many units that had passed down that same road during the previous fourteen months. It was almost an everyday sight now for the people who lived there to see regiments entraining for France. So it was, that as we marched down the short road to Borden station, we felt that we were only going on our business, and that those plain-clothed civilians—many of them young and physically fit men—were going on theirs. At Borden station the somewhat questionable spirits of the men were revived by large cups of excellent tea, brought round by ladies, a parting kindness which was greatly appreciated, and which none of us will forget. The first train, with Brigade Headquarters, Battalion Headquarters, and A and B Companies, steamed out of the station at 5-10 p.m., followed at 5-35 by the second train with C and D Companies. Blinds were drawn in the carriages soon after starting, and with only one stop the train ran through to Folkestone Pier, where we went on board the transport “Onward.” At 9-35 p.m. we left the shores of England, bound for France and the unknown. A war-time cross-channel steamer, converted into a troopship for short runs, is as uncomfortable a form of craft as one can wish to sail in, and the “Onward” was no exception to the rule. In addition to our battalion there were several drafts, principally from Scotch regiments, on board. Luckily it was a fine, warm night, and the sea was as smooth as glass. The dining-room and lounge were boarded up and stripped as bare as a barrack floor, while the corridors, and every available inch of accommodation below were packed with men, in all those extraordinary attitudes, recumbent and sprawling, which the sleeping Tommy can only adopt. On deck it was just the same, and quite impossible to walk from one end of the boat to the other. There were strict orders against smoking on deck, and the task of the unfortunate officer, whose sense of duty was sufficiently strong to prevent him from winking at any breach of discipline, was unenviable. A cigarette, like Nerissa’s candle, throws a long beam, and every effort to reach the culprit was fraught with such curses and mutterings from the bodies over which one stumbled, that it would have disheartened even the adamant spirit of the Secretary for War himself.
We reached Boulogne at 11-30 p.m., and, after the usual disembarkation formalities, in which the Disembarkation Officers and R.T.O.’s always seem to exercise their unlimited powers to the full, the Battalion fell in by companies about 300 yards down the pier. In the darkness and heavy rain which now began to fall this proceeding took a considerable amount of time, but after half an hour we moved off, all thoroughly soaked through. At the best of times the way from the pier at Boulogne to the Rest Camp, some distance out of the town, is not pleasant, but that October night it was particularly bad. The streets were wet and slippery, the men heavily laden with blankets and equipment, and the road up to the Rest Camp led up a steep incline. The leading company, however, stepped out at their normal pace. A few, mindful of the landing of the original Expeditionary Force, and the ever famous “Tipperary” scenes, burst into song, but the Frenchman retires early to bed, and, with the exception of one long, thin arm fluttering a pocket handkerchief from a top window, we saw no sign of life in the deserted streets. After a very steep climb of about two miles, we came to the Rest Camp, and a series of gasoline flares lit up the muddy flats on which the tents were pitched. The mud, ankle deep, sucked up round our boots, and torrents of rain danced in the puddles. It was a matter of ten minutes before each company was allotted its area, and after that, in less time than it takes to tell, the sleep, which only those who have spent a night in a Rest Camp at Boulogne know, had fallen on all.
The day after we landed was an easy one. No orders came as to moving, and the time was spent by our men in parading about the camp, sleeping, and talking to the numerous women and small boys who wandered round the railings, clamouring for “biscuit,” “penny,” or “bully beef.” So urgent was the appeal for these commodities, that the men took it for granted that the entire population of France was starving, and handed over that somewhat elusive “unconsumed portion” of the previous day’s ration, or any that remained of it. As the day wore on and word was received that there would be no move until the following morning, some of the officers were allowed into town in the afternoon. Boulogne in war-time is not an interesting place, and an hour was sufficient for exploration purposes. With the exception of a few French territorials, guarding the bridges and railway station, the town seemed to be entirely handed over to the British, whose motor ambulances glided in every direction. The “Cambria,” with her green and white topsides and large Red Cross flag at her masthead, lay alongside at the quay, a sight to make one home-sick, which brought one’s mind back to Dublin Bay and Kingstown Harbour in the days of peace. It rained off and on all day, and was bitterly cold, an early foretaste of the bitter winds we were to experience in France. We fell in next morning, Wednesday, 6th October, at 10-15, and marched to the Central station, where we entrained. Speculation was rife as to where we were going, whether Belgium, which savoured of Ypres and all that that name implied, or the new line between Arras and the Somme. The latter was a sector taken over by the British from the French in the July preceding, and had the name of being quiet and pleasant compared to the more northerly parts of the line. As the day wore on and we steamed South through Abbeville, and finally came to Amiens, there was no doubt as to our destination. From Amiens we moved on to a side line, and at 6-15 came to Flesselles, a small town about 15 miles south of Amiens, where we detrained. It was a lovely autumn evening, and with a slight breeze blowing from the East, and as we stood fallen in ready to move off from the station, we heard the low rumble and occasional growl of a big gun. From Flesselles we had to march some twelve kilometres to Rubenpre, which was to be our billeting town. Very heavily laden as we all were, officers and men, again the mistake was made of setting too fast a pace. It was an exceptionally warm evening, the men were tired, hungry and thirsty, after the long train journey, and as an hour, and then two, passed by, and we still appeared to be some distance from our town, the softer hearts in the battalion collapsed. There is no necessity to dwell on the unpleasant memories of our first route march in France; it was the most trying experience for both officers and men that we had for many a long day. As we marched East, and as the night grew darker, the flares, and the lurid flashes of gunfire became more vivid, and helped to keep up the interest of the men and distract their attention from the general weariness; at any rate we were, after eleven months’ training, getting to the “Front” at last.

RUBENPRÉ.

When we reached Rubenpré, at 11 o’clock at night, many of the men done up and all very tired, we halted at the head of the village. The second in command had gone on the previous day with the advance party to arrange the billeting, but in the darkness, of a more than usually dark night, the result of his effort was practically impossible to find. The village consisted, as far as one could judge by the light of electric torches or matches, of a series of long barns with doors most of which were barred and bolted, and presented a remark[Pg 12]
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ably inhospitable appearance. A few days before we had left Borden we had been paraded, and in the course of a ten minutes’ harangue, the Commanding Officer had dwelt upon the good name of the battalion, and its excellent conduct while in England. He told the men that he relied on them to maintain that high record in the country to which they were going. Especially he told them to respect the religious susceptibilities of the people. “Hanging over your beds in your billets you will find crucifixes, pictures of the Virgin Mary, and the Saints, and other emblems of the Roman Catholic Church and religion. You will respect these emblems, and remember that you and your Allies have come to free these people from the Germans.” So throughout that march from Flesselles to Rubenpré, the men had before them the vision and anticipation of feather beds which all the saints in the catalogue might adorn, so long as it was a bed. No such luck, however, as feather beds could be hoped for in the land which the men had already christened “No man’s land.” So dark was the night, and so impossible to find were the billets allotted to each Company, that after nearly half-an-hour’s halt at the entrance to the village, Company Commanders and Officers took the matter into their own hands, threw off their packs and equipment on the side of the street, and led their worn-out men down the village. They burst open the doors of barns, and put in, here 20, there 30, men, despite the irate remonstrances of the owners, often punctuated by some shrill scream from some female proprietor, who thought that at any rate her last hour had come. At length, on straw and hay, on floors hard and soft, everyone found a bed, and, tired, as they were, one or two were heard to mutter, Orangemen though they might be, that they wouldn’t mind a bed even if the picture of the Pope himself hung at the head. In this part of France there are no farms. The country is dotted at intervals of a kilometre or two with villages, some small, some large, mostly the same in appearance, with their orchards, and grey church spires sticking up above the knots of trees. All round these villages the country stretches away in gently rolling plains, like a great checkerboard, no ditches or hedges, reminding one of what England must have looked like in the days of the “common field” system. This part of the country is intensely cultivated, not an inch of land is allowed to go to waste, and in war time the work is done entirely by young girls and old women. A young man was never seen, either in the fields or villages; there seemed to be few old men, and the small boys spend most of their day at school. These Picard villages are intensely dirty, and Rubenpre was even dirtier than most of them. The barns were in a bad state of repair, and the yards were swimming with filthy water from the great heaps of manure which were piled up in front of each house, often right up against the windows, yet, curiously enough, the houses themselves were in most cases neat and clean. The houses are built of laths, plastered with mud and straw, poor in construction, and, owing to lack of men, in many cases whole villages presented a dilapidated and tumbled-down appearance. Rubenpré was, therefore, an inhospitable place, and the reception we received from the people themselves was not what we expected. We felt that we had come to the country to fight for the people, and to free them from the enemy; in other words we looked upon ourselves in a mild way as deliverers, and felt to a small extent that we were entitled to be received as such. But our eyes were soon opened,—those bolted barns and inhospitable entrances were an index of the regard in which the people held us; we were received with suspicion, and often with dislike, in every village to which we came during our long peregrinations in Picardy. It speaks volumes for our men to be able to say, as we can say with truth, that we always went away with the good wishes and blessings of the people, and there were many in the battalion who, when a day off came, would walk eight or ten miles to revisit some of their French friends. It was only after we had been some time in the country that we discovered the reason for this coldness. Robbed first of all by the Germans, they had endured successive invasions of Zouave, English, Scotch, and Indian troops, and now an Irish Division, a form of terror formerly unknown was thrust upon them in its entirety. We saw that there was a certain amount to be said for their apparent inhospitality, and put up with it.
The first couple of days at Rubenpré were devoted to “shaking down.” As far as my Company was concerned, we were, on the whole, fortunate with regard to our billets. There was at first a lack of straw, but this was soon remedied, and the men very soon accustomed themselves to the novelty of their surroundings. Large fatigue parties were put on from each Company, and within a week the town was cleaner than it had been for many a long day. The people looked on with quiet amusement, but they too soon became resigned to what they considered the British mania for cleaning.
Battalion headquarters were in a cottage, and at first a battalion officers’ mess was tried in an estaminet which had a room in which a stove was riveted in the centre. In a short time, however, the difficulty of running a four company and headquarters mess in the same house became apparent, and two companies, A and B, seceded and formed a mess of their own in another café. C Company and headquarters remained in the same house, but before we had been many weeks in France the advantages of company messes became evident. Our company headquarters was in a disused and rather tumbled down house, but it had a good orchard and field behind, which we used for musketry and range finding. In return for the use of the house, we lent the owner a few men every day as a help to thresh his corn and milk his cows. There was no lack of fresh milk, eggs, potatoes, and apples. Eggs cost three sous each, milk four sous per litre.
We remained at Rubenpré for about two weeks, and during that time had the usual routine of parades and training as at home. We were inspected by the G.O.C. Third Army, Sir Charles Munro, who expressed himself very pleased with our bearing on parade. We had two or three brigade field days and one divisional day, the latter the first divisional exercise under the eyes of our new G.O.C. Division, General Nugent. The remarks of our General on the day’s performance were, to say the least of them, hardly as complimentary as we should have wished. They left an impression on the minds of those who heard them that will never fade, and they had their effect on all ranks.

MAILLY-MAILLET.

MAILLY-MAILLET SUCRIER.

On 18th October we left Rubenpré to go up to the line for that instruction period which everyone in the New Army in France knows so well. As we got nearer to the line the sound of the guns became more distinct, and the tiny puffs of white smoke in the sky from the German aircraft guns was the first sign

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With the Ulster Division in France / A Story of the 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrim Volunteers), From Bordon to Thiepval.
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