References to the activities of the North Irish Horse appear in a number of contemporary accounts of the First World War, and in later histories. Some of these are shown below.
Battle of the Rivers, September - October 1914
The North Irish Horse arrived in France on August 20th, and pushing forward at once reached the French and Belgian frontier in time to relieve the pressure on the retreating forces. They had their baptism of fire near Compiègne on September 1st, and fought again a few days later at Le Cateau. These little side details or footnotes of history are not without their interest. Often, indeed, they excite the mind even more than the big, decisive events.
During the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne both the North and the South Irish Horse were employed rounding up parties of Uhlans in the woods, and scouring the isolated villages and deserted farmhouses for stragglers. The Uhlans, by all accounts, were contemptible as foes. "They run like scalded cats when they see you," writes Captain N. G. Stewart Richardson, of the North Irish Horse, to a friend in Belfast, "and are always in close formation as if afraid to separate. I had a grand hunt after twenty (there were five of us), and we got four dead, picking up two more afterwards. We came on them round the corner of a street, and they went like hunted deer."
The duties were discharged with varying good luck and bad. Corporal Fred Lindsay tells how the North Irish Horse discovered one of those minor tragedies of war and lost Troopers Jack Scott of Londonderry and W. Moore of Limavady. "With a Sergeant Hicks they were sent to patrol as far as a ford in the river which, unknown to us, was held by a German force with a machine gun. When the three reached the ford they found a British officer dead across his motor-car and some of his men dead around the car. They were about to dismount to investigate when the machine-gun fired upon them, instantly killing the two troopers. Sergeant Hicks escaped on Moore's horse, his own being shot under him." On another day, the same troop came upon a force of Uhlans in a wood near a village, and succeeded in killing some, taking a good many prisoners, and capturing a number of horses. "In this action," Corporal Fred Lindsay relates, "Trooper McClennaghan, of Garvagh, accounted for three Uhlans and took two horses single-handed; and two others and myself, firing simultaneously at an escaping Uhlan, brought both horse and rider down at 900 yards' distance. Sitting on the roadside later eating biscuits and bully beef with the rest of us Viscount Massereene complimented us, saying, 'Boys, you have done a good day's work. If we only had an opportunity like this every day!'" Subsequently the North Irish Horse had the distinction of forming the bodyguard of Sir John French. The South Irish Horse took service, like the cavalry, in the trenches.
From Michael MacDonagh, The Irish at the Front, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1916, pp.35-36.
Uhlans and North Irish Horsemen - 1 and 6 September 1914
[1 September 1914] A little later one of our despatch riders rode in hurriedly. He reported that, while he was riding along the road to the 15th, he had been shot at by Uhlans whom he had seen distinctly. … A second despatch rider was carefully studying his map. It seemed to him absolutely inconceivable that Uhlans should be at the place where the first despatch rider had seen them. … He rode by a slightly roundabout road, and reached the 15th in safety. On his way back he saw a troop of North Irish Horse. …On his return the despatch rider was praised mightily for his work, but to this day he believes the Uhlans were North Irish Horse and the bullets 'overs' - to this day the first despatch rider contradicts him.
[6 September 1914] Later in the afternoon I was sent off to find the North Irish Horse. I discovered them four miles away in the first flush of victory. They had had a bit of a scrap with Uhlans, and were proudly displaying to an admiring brigade that was marching past a small but select collection of horses, lances, and saddles.
From Captain W. H. L. Watson, Adventures of a Despatch Rider, William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1915.
'Hostile' cavalry - 1 and 11 September 1914
[1 September 1914] The two battalions working up north-west from Duvy had just extended and were moving carefully across country, when I received word that a large force of the enemy's cavalry was moving on to my left rear. I did not like this, and pushed out another battalion (Norfolks) to guard my flank. But we need not have been worried, for shortly afterwards it appeared that the "hostile" cavalry was the North Irish Horse, turned up from goodness knows where.
[11 September 1914] Next morning we did not move off till 9.25, for the supplies to the Brigades did not arrive as soon as we expected, and hence the column was late in starting. We dawdled along, forming the rear brigade, in cool weather, and nothing in particular happened beyond reports coming in from the front that the Germans were quite demoralised. It came on to pour as we left Chouy, and at Billy we parked the transport and prepared to billet there. But it was already chokeful of other troops, and more than half our brigade would have had to bivouac in the sopping fields. So we pushed on to St Remy, and, evacuating some cavalry and making them move on to some farms a bit ahead,—including Massereene and his North Irish Horse, who, I fear, were not much pleased at having to turn out of their comfortable barns,—we billeted there, headquarters being taken up in the Curé's house. Even here his poor little rooms had been ransacked, drawers and tables upset and their contents littered over the floor, and everything of the smallest value stolen by the Germans.
From Edward Lord Gleichen, The Doings of the Fifteenth Infantry Brigade, August 1914 to March 1915.
'Hulloa boys', 2 September 1914
Just before the train ran into Lagny--our first stop--I was surprised to see British soldiers washing their horses in the river, so I was not surprised to find the station full of men in khaki. They were sleeping on the benches along the wall, and standing about, in groups. As to many of the French on the train this was their first sight of the men in khaki, and as there were Scotch there in their kilts, there was a good deal of excitement. The train made a long stop in the effort to put more people into the already overcrowded coaches. I leaned forward, wishing to get some news, and the funny thing was that I could not think how to speak to those boys in English. You may think that an affectation. It wasn't. Finally I desperately sang out:--
You should have seen them dash for the window. I suppose that their native tongue sounded good to them so far from home.
"Where did you come from?" I asked.
"From up yonder--a place called La Fere," one of them replied.
"What regiment?" I asked.
"Any one else here speak English?" he questioned, running his eyes along the faces thrust out of the windows.
I told him no one did.
"Well," he said, "we are all that is left of the North Irish Horse and a regiment of Scotch Borderers."
"What are you doing here?"
"Retreating--and waiting for orders. How far are we from Paris?"
I told him about seventeen miles. He sighed, and remarked that he thought they were nearer, and as the train started I had the idea in the back of my head that these boys actually expected to retreat inside the fortifications. La! la!
From Mildred Aldrich, A Hilltop on the Marne: being letters written, June 3 - September 8 1914, www.fullbooks.com/A-Hilltop-on-the-Marne1.html.
An accidental encounter, September 1914
One day while the Battalion was in the van during the advance to the Marne one of our forward sections watched with interest while a cavalry screen composed of North Irish Horse reconnoitred the village. The infantry section on high ground could see the village plainly, and all the approaches to it, but the cavalry operating on low ground ahead had no such advantage.
The leading point of the British cavalry patrol rode on well ahead of his comrades towards the crossroads in the centre of the village, and at the same moment our infantry were delighted to see a German Uhlan riding similarly towards the same crossroads along the road running into it at right angles from a flank. No verbal warning could be given by the observers. They were too fascinated to think of firing their rifles. German and Irishman met precisely at the crossroads, and each wheeled a rearing horse and galloped away from each other as hard as they could pelt.
From John F Lucy, there's a Devil in the Drum, the Naval and Military Press, 1992 ed., p.200
'Next for shaving', June 1915
It will interest the many friends he made whilst out here as aide-de-camp to Lord Denman [Governor General of Australia] to learn that Captain Neil Stuart-Richardson, since fighting his way back from the Marne, where he was invalided from an injury to the shoulder, has been stationed at Antrim Castle. He is suffering from three broken ribs, but is otherwise fit and well, working on a new squadron of the North Irish Horse, which he says are the "next for shaving," or rather the next to go to France.
From The Argus newspaper, Melbourne, Australia, 26 June 1915 p.16. Neil Graham Stewart Richardson, onetime ADC to Australia's 5th Governor General, served as a Lieutenant in the North Irish Horse (arriving in France with A or C Squadron in August 1914), and later as temporary Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
'Shooting and stabbing', D Squadron in the trenches, July 1915
Stationed in trenches in front of Rue de Tillelay, Laventie. I have command of a squadron of North Irish Horse under Major Hamilton Russel, a nice person. They are awfully sick at the class of warfare we are waging at present. I haven’t a notion of what they expected – a sort of orgie of shooting and stabbing I suppose – but I tell them they can have as much adventure as they like if they choose to send out patrols at night in front of our barbed wire.
Brevet-Major E. Gore-Browne, London Regiment, letter to his mother dated 9 August 1915, Imperial War Museum 85/55/1, E. Gore-Browne papers, in P. Hodges (2008), "They don't like it up 'em!": Bayonet fetishization in the British Army during the First World War, Journal of War and Culture Studies1:2, p.135.
Salving on the Somme - Mash Valley, July 1916
18 July. Senlis. ... 7.00pm. A party of 36, Headquarters, A and C Squadrons cleared up battlefield. Burial work was carried out between the Albert-Pozieres and the Albert-Contalmaison road[s] and south-west of these roads. Thirty-three British (including one officer) and seven German bodies were buried. A large quantity of British equipment, steel helmets etc etc were salved besides 88 British and 17 German rifles, and 95 Mills hand grenades. ...
19 July. Senlis. Fine. Fifty men on unloading stone at Acheux ('B'). ... An issue (special) of rum for the Squadrons was asked for. C Squadron cleared up battlefield. Sixty-three British and 36 German bodies were buried. More than 300 rifles and various equipment were collected. Communication trench from X14c28 to X9a25 is now clear of dead but a lot of equipment still remains to be salved. There is a quantity of ammunition still lying about; this seems to have been freely scattered about, also numerous bombs and it appears almost as if bombs intended for front line never got there. The party got back about 5pm. ... The party for Martinsart unloaded stone from 7.30pm [sic] to 3pm. The Huns indulging in shell fire most of the time but all shells going just over.
Extract from War Diary, 2nd Regiment, North Irish Horse, National Archives WO 95/874.
Cards with the 2nd Regiment near Boeschepe on the Ypres front, early 1917
Whenever I heard that the 69th Field Ambulance was in the neighbourhood, I used to ride over to see them. My only other social visits were to a very friendly squadron of yeomanry, the North Irish Horse, who were acting as Corps Cavalry, and who had a mess at Vieuxbec. I often spent the evenings with them playing a simple game they taught me called Blind Hookey or Uncle Sam. This is one of those games which appears so guileless and in which even the worst duffer at card games can join at once and be fleeced, and is, I believe, the one employed by the villain in melodramas to ruin the honest village lad.
One evening when it was decided to stop playing, one more round was proposed and agreed to, and a special prize offered. In one corner of the room stood a deal box in which the squadron fox-terrier bitch was at that very moment in the throes of labour. The prize was to be one of the puppies, the winner to make his own choice. Perhaps because I had lost consistently the whole evening, perhaps because I did not want a dog, the cards turned all in my favour. Just as the last card was played and I had been proclaimed winner, the regimental M.O. who was in attendance on the little bitch, informed the company that the interesting event had come to a happy conclusion, and we inspected the litter of four.
They were an odd lot of puppies, no two appearing to belong to the same breed. This curious fact the doctor explained by telling us that during the period of her courting the squadron had moved from place to place, never remaining more than one day at any.
After very carefully inspecting the litter, I chose the newborn puppy which looked to me most like a fox- terrier.
From 'Memoires of a Rat Officer on the Western Front' by Philip Gosse, from the book Memoires of a Camp Follower. Source: The Great War in a Different Light website. http://www.greatwardifferent.com.
A trench raid on the Cambrai front, November 1917
We had a very good raid last night into the German lines. Killed over 40 and blew in dugouts which we know contained men.
It was a complete surprise carried out without any preliminary bombardment. The whole party 64 of them crawled on their bellies for over an hour until they got up to the German wire where there was a gap. Then they rushed in and first met a party of 16 men coming out of their trenches. They had a lively fight with them and eventually bayonetted the whole lot. Another party of Germans were hunted out of the trenches up against their own wire and they were either bayonetted or shot. The squealing of the Germans could be heard back in our lines. Our men were rather excited and saw red and they took no prisoners. They did take some at first but got bored with them and killed them. The Germans fought quite well apparently when they were cornered. We had about 17 casualties, three killed, remainder light wounds except 1 officer who was rather badly wounded. The men are very pleased. They are men of the North Irish Horse recently sent to us and have never yet had a chance of killing a German and they got excited and killed everyone instead of taking some prisoners as proof of success and also because we want some prisoners [as] often as possible for examination.
Major-General Oliver Nugent, in a letter to his wife dated 4 November 1917, in Nicholas Perry (ed.), Major-General Oliver Nugent and the Ulster Division 1915-1918, Sutton Publishing Ltd for the Army Records Society, 2007, pp.179-80.
The following letters were received by Maggie Irwin, the wife of one of the men killed in the trench raid:
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.
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.
From The Story of a Banner: Waringstown during World War 1, by Leslie Elliott and David Stevenson.
The North Irish Horse in Italy? October 1918
The Division crossed the Piave and by October 1918 had advanced sufficiently to allow the engineers to build bridges over the river at night, when the river was not in spate; the lack of these would have prevented the attack being carried out. The cavalry, which consisted of two Yeomanry regiments, the Northamptonshire Yeomanry and the North Irish Horse, crossed the Piave passing through the cheering front line infantry, and penetrated nearly ten miles into enemy territory, encountering surprisingly little resistance.
This reference, in the recollections of George Dixon of C Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry, suggests that a unit of NIH fought on the Italian front in 1918, yet no official record places them on that front. However the account of Francis MacMahon has a group of North Irish Horsemen traversing Italy in September 1917, where "the brass discussed using us as reinforcements". Perhaps a number were allowed to stay, rather than return to France for infantry service. I am grateful to Jerry Murland for providing the above reference.
Two prisoner of war stories, March to October 1918
Munster in Westfalen, Camp III. Gefangenenlager 3, Germany. 17.06.18
I have been thinking of sending you a card or a letter since I was captured, but as we are issued with a Post-card every week and a letter like this every other week, it was necessary to let all friends know first.
You will see there is not much danger of writing too much especially on a P.C. however the news is not too plentiful so it does not matter. Well I suppose you will all think everything and wonder how I am getting on.
First of all I am having the best of health, in a very good Camp I have no cause for to grumble now, so that is a lot to say. Well Isaac how are you all getting along, I have not got any letters or anything since we were captured on 27th March, our first Red-cross parcel will arrive in a day or so I believe, so that means a lot to us, it takes about 5 to 6 weeks for a letter.
I want you to write me a nice long letter, you will be able to let me know how you get the 12th over, I hope you will all have a good time if this reaches you before then. No doubt I will be thinking of 225 all the day and hope the next one will be a free one for me.
Will you remember me to one and all of the members of 225 and any enquiring friends, let them know I am well. How is Jack send him my address.
The letter above was written by Sergeant William Lockhart of A Company, 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (No.41543) to Isaac Reid of Searce, Jerretspass, County Armagh. (Isaac Reid was the Worshipful Master of the local Orange Lodge .) Lockhart, who had been with the North Irish Horse (No.346) in France in 1914, was captured during the German Kaiserschlacht offensive in March 1918. I am grateful to John Adams for allowing me to reproduce Lockart's letter from his website Letters from the Front http://www.johnadams.org.uk/letters.
Interview with Private Henry Emerson of Foglish, Fivemiletown, County Tyrone, No.41103, 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, formerly Service Squadron, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons (No.UD/23), and 2nd Regiment North Irish Horse.
Place and Date of Capture. Close to Nesle, France, 28th March 1918.
Nature of Wound, if any. Unwounded.
Capture. March 28, 1918. I was captured unwounded and did not during my time as a prisoner go into a hospital. I was captured with the 108th Brigade, and only three officers were left to be taken, Mr. Scott, Mr. Smith and Mr. Breminer, all lieutenants. They were the only officers left in my company, A company. We were cut off for two days before we were captured, and for three days after our capture we received no food.
Nesle. March 28-29, 1918. We were kept in Nesle for one day.
Ham. March 29-30, 1918. We were kept one day at Ham. I was never searched or interrogated at all. We stayed in cages during the nights before we got to St. Quentin in old buildings. During the three days we were simply marched about. There was no ill-treatment during that three days. There were some wounded, and men were told off to look after them. The wounded got very little medical attention, and there were plenty of bad cases among them. We were given water to drink, and we were not interfered with.
St. Quentin. March 30 - April 21, 1918. I was taken to St. Quentin on the 30th March. I remained for three weeks. At St. Quentin we were put in what had been a cottage or cow-house. There were French prisoners there as well. There were no beds or blankets given us, and our clothes were never off us. It was very cold weather, and there was no heating apparatus, not even a roof on the buildings. The food here was a small loaf of black bread to four men per day (1,400 grammes of bread to each four men); soup, very thin, once a day, preserved turnips seemed to be in it; coffee made of burnt barley; tea in the evenings, only it was not tea; no meat, no fats. There was only a small quantity of each kind of food, and all them men got very low on this diet. No clothes were taken away from us, I was captured with just the clothes I stood up in. The work I had to do here was burying the dead. I spent the whole of the three weeks at this. The guard indulged in plenty of abuse and knocked us about, but I do not know any case of any man being badly injured. The place we were accommodated in was called Martin-Henri. We were in big rooms with the roofs all shattered, and not wired round. The latrines were old places dug out in the yard. It was very filthy and dirty, and there was no payment for work. It was not until my last week at St. Quentin that I was allowed to write home. I was then given a field card and I addressed it to my home. I don't know when it reached there. I received no clothing from the Germans. I did not ask for any, but I do not think I should have received any if I had done so. The German soldiers were short themselves and offered to buy clothes from us. I never received any letters from home there or anywhere else while a prisoner. I never received any parcels, and nobody with me did. The German guards at St. Quentin had better rations than we did. No persons died at St. Quentin while I was there. There were only Portuguese and French and a few Russians there; I think the French had the best treatment. Our men cooked for the whole of the prisoners; they would also get better jobs.
Esmery-Hallon. April 21 - June 30, 1918. From St. Quentin I was taken with 40 others, all British, to Esmery-Hallon, 6 kilom. south of Ham. This was about the 21st April, and I remained there until about the 30th June. At Esmery-Hallon we lived in an old building, no roofs, no beds, no blankets, no protection from the weather. I remained all the time I was there in this building. I had just the clothes I stood up in and nothing else. The food here was just the same as at St. Quentin. We worked here as engineers, cutting timber, digging holes, and erecting an electric cable. We worked eight hours a day; no night work, no payment received. Worked the eight hours straight through without a spell. The latrines here were very bad, filthy and dirty, and a very bad stench. There was plenty of ill-treatment from the guards, abuse and beating with rifles, and kicking. This the guard did to anyone, not only when there was a refusal to work. I do not know of anyone who had bones broken. The guards, both at St. Quentin and here, were old men who had never been in the line. Only once was I allowed to write home from here. This was about the middle of May, and I do not know whether this got home. The other men there, at this time, were only allowed to write home this once. No mails or parcels were received, and we received no clothes here. We worked seven days a week here also. There were very few smokes. A German corporal was in charge of the camp; there was a camp commandant, but he never came near it. There were two British sergeants there, and they were made to work also. There was a hospital there for those who went sick, but they had to be very bad before they were sent there. There was no doctor at the camp, and if a man reported sick, he went to the hospital and it was decided there. I think the treatment in the hospital was not so bad. The guards at Esmery-Hallon had better rations than we had. There was no canteen here, and there was no time allowed us for recreation. There was plenty of sickness, dysentery, and some disease like dropsy. When at Esmery-Hallon we used to be taken down the line to work at a place called Ognolles, near Roye, and were shelled there. There were no casualties, but shells used to fall all round us. We worked most of our time there, and we had to walk here, a distance of about eight kilom. That means we had to walk 10 miles a day, besides doing our day's work. No prisoners died at Esmery-Hallon while I was there.
Fresnoy-le-Grand. June 30 - July 6, 1918. About the 30th June I was moved to Fresnoy-le-Grand with my party. I remained here six days, while waiting to go to Hautmont. We did no work here, and were given only half rations. We lived in a cow-shed without any conveniences, no bed, or blanket, or covering.
Hautmont. July 6 - Sept. 9, 1918. I was then taken to Hautmont, near Maubeuge, where I remained until the 9th September. At Hautmont we were accommodated in an old building which had a roof. We had no beds or blankets. We worked at a salvage dump, eight hours a day, seven days a week, pretty heavy work. We received pay here, 1s. 2d. per hour. The food here was just the same as at Esmery-Hallon, but the treatment here was bad. We were beaten and kicked by the guard. This was the usual thing; The guards constantly ill-treated us like this. There was no one to complain to; if we complained to an officer, he would give us the same. I wrote home from here, but I do not know whether it reached home. In this letter we were told to give an address for our letters to be addressed to. This address was: The Roumanian Command, No. 7, Stendal, Germany. Some men got letters here, but not with this address. No parcels were received in my time. There was no canteen and no means of buying anything. I saw Italian prisoners at Hautmont; they were getting good treatment.
Fresnoy. Sept. 9-15, 1918. On the 9th September I was taken back to Fresnoy, and escaped from there on the 15th September. At Fresnoy there were 1,500 Portuguese prisoners when I escaped. All these men had been captured since March, and were to go to Germany on the 16th. The brigade had been split up, and some had been kept to work behind the lines, and some had been sent to Germany. My treatment behind the lines was just the same all the time; no improvement.
Escape. Sept. 15, 1918. I escaped from Fresnoy on the 15th September. One other man escaped with me, Lance-Corporal Bennett, 1st Royal Irish Rifles.
Opinion of Examiner. This was a difficult witness; willing, seemingly, but one who found it difficult to express himself. He gave me an impression of having received worse treatment than he was able to express clearly.
J. W. CAMPBELL 1st October 1918.
From Prisoner of War interviews, No.2536, National Archives, Catalogue Reference WO/161/100/445.