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A Soldier's Story

26138 Private William Nolan Late Royal Dublin Fusiliers


Page 1901 Nolan Family census



1911 Nolan Family census



Research on Willam Nolan's service record.



William Nolan' service record documents



Training to be a soldier



In the trenches



16th (Irish) Division



The Machine Gun Corps



Battle of Guillemont and the Battle of Ginchy



Battle of Messines and Capture of Wytschaete



Battle of Pilckem Ridge



Battle of Langermarck



Attack North of Bullecourt



Battle of St.Quentin



William Nolan POW



Correspondances between British Army and Elizabeth Nolan



Memorial Plaque and Scroll



William Nolan's War Medals



In Memory of William Nolan



Nolan Family Census of 1901


Nolan Family Census of 1911


William Nolan's service record. The following files from the National Archives were used to piece together Williams service record from 15th of February 1916 until he was killed on the 24th of April 1918.

WO363. The British Army World War One Pension Records are War Office (WO) records also known as the WO364 records and the ‘Unburnt collection’, due to these records surviving a World War Two bombing raid on the War Office in London where they were held. During this raid, a large portion (approximately 60 per cent) of the British Army World War One Service Records, also known as the WO363 records were destroyed by fire. The surviving service records have also become known as the ‘Burnt collection’.

Although many of these records suffered water damage following the bombing raid, all surviving service and pension records were digitised by The National Archives, where both collections are held, as part of a major TNA conservation project.

WO372 British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920

This database contains the Medal Rolls Index, or Medal Index Cards. The collection currently contains approximately 4.8 million people, which is nearly all of the total collection. The records in each release cover a wide range of surnames from all alphabetical ranges. The records can be searched by first and last name and Corps, Unit or Regiment. These cards were created by the Army Medal Office (AMO) of the United Kingdom in Droitwich near the close of World War I (WWI).

The Medal Index Cards collection is the most complete listing of individuals who 3

Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

William enlisted into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the 15th of February 1916 joining the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion at Dublin.

British Regiments were formed up as follows.

Each Regiment had two Battalions the 1st Battalion and the 2nd Battalion. Normally one Battalion was on home garrison duties while the other served somewhere in the Empire. In addition to this and according to their size each Regiment would have one or more Reserve Battalions usually the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion and the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion. These were part time Battalions. A man enlisted for six years and underwent his basic training after which he returned to his civilian employment. He then reported back once a year for one month's annual training. In times of war these Battalions were mobilized and their role was to take over home garrison duties from the Regular Battalions and to train and provide replacement drafts for the Regular and Service Battalions who were in the Field. These Reserve Battalions with few exceptions never served outside the United Kingdom and Ireland.


In addition to the above the Service Battalions were formed up during and for the duration of the war.At the war's end they were disbanded as the army returned to its peacetime establishment.

On the 15th of February 1916 William was posted to the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. At this time the Battalion was stationed at Templemore County Tipperary. It was here that Private William Nolan would have undertaken his basic military training. Then on the 28th of August 1916 William was posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion. On the 8th of May 1916 William was admitted to the Royal Military Infirmary Dublin, suffering from Scabies.

On the 30th of August 1916 William embarked at Folkestone and set sail for France landing the following day at Etaples and as a replacement he joined the Battalion in the field.

This 9th (Service) Battalion was a unit of the 48th Infantry Brigade itself a unit of the 16th(Irish) Division.

On the 16th of September 1916 William was posted to the 8th (Service ) Battalion.This Battalion was a unit of the same Brigade and Division.


16th (Irish) Division in France.

War record on the Western Front from the 1st of September to the 24th of April 1918.

1916 BATTLES OF THE SOMME. 3rd to 6th September Battle of Guillemont. 9th September Battle of Ginchy.

1917 7th to 9th June Battle of Messines. 7th June Capture of Wystchaete.

BATTLES OF YPRES 31st July to 2nd August Battle of Pilckem Ridge. 16th to 18th August Battle of Langermarck

20th November Attack North of Bullecourt.

In October of 1917 William had a brush with authority when he was charged with "hesitating to obey an order". Found guilty he was awarded 14 days C.B.(confined to 6

On the 9th of March 1918 William transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. This Corps was formed in 1915 by taking the Machine Gun Sections from Brigades Infantry Battalions and forming them into Machine Gun Companies.

These Companies took their name from the Brigade in which they served and William was in the 48th (Brigade) Machine Gun Company.

On the 9th of March 1918 the 16th (Irish) Division three Brigade Machine Gun Companies the 47th, 48th and the 49th came together to form the 16th Machine Gun Battalion of the 16th (Irish) Division.Due to the Machine Gun Corps heavy casualty rate it was affectionately known as the suicide squad.

During Battles and actions the Battalions would have undertaken different roles. Sometimes they would have have been at the cutting edge while at other times they would be in support or in reserve. To know exactly what part a Battalion took in a battle you would need to refer to the unit war diary or regimental history.

Unfortunately the 48th Brigade Machine gun company war diary ends on the 28th of February 1918 just prior to the re-organization of the Battalions and the 16th Battalions war diaries does not start until June 1918 so there is a gap.




Having made peace with the Russians, the German High Command moved about one million men from the Eastern to the Western Front. They wanted to deliver a knockout blow and win the war outright before the Americans could arrive in large enough numbers to influence the outcome of the war.

To this end on the 21st of March the German Army threw the dice for the last time and attacked in huge force.The point of the attack was at a point of the line held by the 16th (Irish) Division and the 66th Division.

21st to 23rd March Battle of St.Quentin.

During this attack the 16th (Irish) Division was all but destroyed and by the 3rd of April only about 1300 men answered the roll call which is little more than an Infantry Battalion.

On the 21st of March William was reported missing. Then there was an unfortunate mix up.The British Red Cross initially reported him a prisoner of war confusing him with a man with a similar name in the 16th Battalion. However an official German list reported him as having died in a German Field Hospital at Roisel France on the 22nd of April 1918 and was buried in a large grave.






William was disciplined for " Hesitating to obey an order" 14 days CB.


Medical History and Casualty Form- Active service.






Training to be a soldier

Growth of the army drives need for expansion of training .

One of the forgotten wonders of the Great War is how Britain transformed its small, professional soldiery into a mass citizen army. The army needed to be massively increased in size to meet the needs of the war strategy.

But exactly how were millions of working-class lads from the industrial cities, agricultural workers from the shires and middle-class clerks turned into a warwinning force in a relatively short timeframe?


Training at home before going to war

Much development work had been done on the training syllabus in the period since the Boer War. The principles and details of training were laid down in the Field Service Regulations and in army publications such as "Infantry Training 1914". Training for ordinary tommies began with basic training for physical fitness, drill, march discipline, essential field craft, and so on. Later, as the soldier specialised (in the infantry, for example, as a rifleman, machine gunner, rifle grenadier, signaller or bomber) he would receive courses of instruction relevant to his role. Especially as he was approaching being warned for the active fronts, he would receive basic training in first aid, gas defence, wiring and other aspects. This training continued when he was on active service. Basic training taught a man individual and unit discipline, how to follow commands, how to march, some basic field skills and how to safely handle his weapons. Many men, especially the volunteers, believed there was too much 'Bull', designed to suppress the individual spirit, ingenuity and initiative out of a man. Many men arrived at the fighting fronts utterly unprepared for the experience.


Training continued overseas

Once they had arrived overseas and were closer to the front, the more informal training at unit level and the often shocking experience of combat conditions meant that a man soon learned, or died. Training carried on intensively when a unit was out of the line. Not only was this necessary because there was a high turnover of men in any given unit, but the tactics and technologies of the war developed very rapidly. The training syllabus and the organisational structure for delivering it were developed hugely during the war. Whole new training schools developed, to which men would be sent for specialist training. Much of this develoment is recognised as the contribution of, amongst others, Major Generals Ivor Maxse and Arthur Solly-Flood. Among the innovations was detailed attack practice in large and small formations. Units enjoying a period at rest would often tell immediately so-called 'assault training' began that they were due for inclusion in an offensive.

In France and Flanders, training became wholly focused on the prevailing conditions of trench warfare, and on the Allied position of taking the offensive. The skills required for open warfare and the defensive were gradually lost during the period 1915-1917, a not insignificant cause of casualties and tactical defeat in places in early 1918. Training and learning were rapidly reorganised and the British Army became a highly proficient, mobile, force capable of "all arms" battles in 1918.


Facilities for training At home

Having men to train was one thing: having somewhere to house and train them quite

A postcard from the new Kinmel Park camp near Abergele in North Wales.

The training facilities of the regular army, at barracks in Great Britain, were soon overwhelmed by the numbers of men being recruited in 1914 and again when conscription was introduced in 1916. It became very clear that additional training places and accommodation for the men would be required. At first, large public buildings such as church and local halls, schools and warehouses were taken over - in many cases offered up by the local authority, church wardens etc - for both purposes. Thousands of men were also billeted in private homes. Gradually, new camps were constructed. Some of them were vast affairs, with their own canteens, hospitals, post offices, clubs and so on. 22

Many such camps were developed, with principal concentrations at Salisbury Plain, Cannock Chase (Rugeley and Brocton) in Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire (Clipstone being the main centre), East Anglia and the North Wales coast.

France and Flanders and other fronts Once the fighting area on the Western Front was stabilised, new facilities for training were established in the rear areas. They varied enormously. Some were huge camps of huts housing thousands of men, either on their way from basic training in England to a posting to a unit, or in the process of returning from wound or hospital. The best example is the notorious "Bull Ring" at Etaples. Others were specialist schools, some of which were accommodated in large houses, public buildings, etc.



Trembling down in the trench, thinking of nothing but home, Above I hear a roar, another mine has blown. There is no turning back, the battle must go on, Nonetheless it seems to me all meaningless and wrong.

As if one shot from me, will help the war at all, My task is to 'go o'er the top', to fire and then to fall. Of course I love my country, but I'm too young to die, Echoing all around I hear the bitter battle cry.

I wish I hadn't come, I wish I wasn't here, But it is far too late, and I'm overcome with fear. I once felt so very proud that I was going to fight, But how can any man have pride, after seeing this harrowing sight.

I long for freedom, and yet more for peace, The day when this endless war will cease. But for now I value every given breath, For the time draws near when I shall meet my certain death.

Pippa Moss


In the trenches

What were the trenches?

Although most of us think primarily of the Great War in terms of life and death in the trenches, only a relatively small proportion of the army actually served there.

The trenches were the front lines, the most dangerous places. But behind them was a mass of supply lines, training establishments, stores, workshops, headquarters and all the other elements of the 1914-1918 system of war, in which the majority of troops were employed.


The trenches were the domain of the infantry, with the supporting arms of the mortars and machine-guns, the engineers and the forward positions of the artillery observers.

Why were the trenches there?

The idea of digging into the ground to give some protection from powerful enemy artillery and small arms fire was not a new idea or unique to the Great War. It had been widely practiced in the US Civil War, the Russian-Japanese war and other fairly recent wars. Trench warfare can be said to have begun in September 1914 and ended when the Allies made a breakthrough attack in August 1918. Before and after those dates were wars of movement: in between it was a war of entrenchment. The massive armies of 1914 initially fought a war of movement, and any trenches dug were only for temporary cover. But from the Battle of the Aisne onwards, both sides dug in to take cover and hold their ground. The successive movements to outflank (get around the outside of) the enemy trenches came to an end by November 1914. By then there was a continuous line of trenches covering some 400 miles from Switzerland to the North Sea. There was no way round.

What were the trenches like?

The type and nature of the trench positions varied a lot, depending on the local conditions. For example, in the area of the River Somme on the Western Front, the ground is chalky and is easily dug.The trench sides will crumble easily after rain, so would be built up ('revetted') with wood, sandbags or any other suitable material. At Ypres, the ground is naturally boggy and the water table very high, so trenches were not really dug, more built up using sandbags and wood (these were called 'breastworks'). In parts of Italy, trenches were dug in rock; in Palestine in sand.In France the trenches ran through towns and villages, through industrial works, coalmines, brickyards, across railway tracks, through farms, fields and woods, across rivers, canals and streams. 26

Each feature presented its own set of challenges for the men who had to dig in and defend. In the major offensives of 1915, 1916 and 1917 many trench positions were only held for a few days at a time before the next advance moved them on into what had been no man's land or the enemy position. These trenches were scratch affairs, created as the advancing troops dug in, and were sometimes little more than 18 inches deep.

The bird's-eye view (below, from an official infantry training manual of March 1916) shows a typical but very stylised trench layout. There is a front line, or "Main Fire Trench" facing the enemy. It is not straight, but follows contours or other natural features allowing good defence or a view over the enemy lines. Thousands of men became casualties in fighting for, or making small adjustments to their lines, to give this cover or observation. 27

It also is dug in sections rather than a straight line, so if a shell explodes inside one of these 'bays' (also called 'traverses'), or an enemy gets into one, only that section is affected.

Behind it is another line, similarly made, called a support line. In this would be found 'dugouts' cut into the side of the trench wall, often very small but with room for perhaps three or four men to squeeze in for shelter, or for a telephone position for a signaller, or for a Platoon or Company HQ. Communication trenches linked the rear areas with both lines, and it was along these that all men, equipment and supplies had to be fetched, by hand. Probing out from the front line were trenches usually called 'saps', which often went beyond the protective belts of barbed wire, terminating somewhere in 'no man's land' between the two opposing front lines in a listening post, manned by one or two infantrymen. 28

The cross-section shows how the front and rear of the trench was ideally protected and built up using sandbags at the front and rear, or 'parapet' and 'parados'.

The enemy had a very similar system of trenches. The distance between the two lines varied from as little as 30 yards (just under 30m) to several hundred yards. The space between the two opposing lines was called no man's land. It was difficult to consolidate a captured enemy trench - in effect it had to be turned round as you now needed to have a protected front at what had been the unprotected rear when the enemy held it.

As defensive and offensive tactics developed later in the war, trench positions became formidable fortresses with barbed wire belts tens of yards deep in front of them, with concrete shelters and emplacements, often below ground level. Machine guns would be permanently trained on gaps deliberately left in the wire, and the artillery would also have the positions registered for firing at short notice.

A typical trench system consisting of three main fire or support trenches, connected by communication trenches and with various posts, strong points and saps. By 1916, the German system of defence had three or four such trench systems layered back over a distance of a couple of miles. By 1917, the system had deepened even further so that the assaults of 1918 faced defensive systems several miles deep.


Keep your head down! While this idealised training view of a trench system shows a depth of 5 or 6 feet, in battlefield conditions trenches might be much shallower.

Living conditions

Where possible, the floor of the trench was made by using wooden duckboards. One of the features the diagrams above do not show is the latrine, which had to be dug somewhere close to hand. This was generally as deep a hole in the ground as possible, over which was mounted a plank to sit on. Men would, with permission, leave their post to use the latrine. This rough form of sanitation was often a target for enemy snipers and shellfire and was also a considerable smell and health hazard for the men in the trenches.


This photograph of a soldier of the 5th Scottish Rifles in the flooded trenches near Armentieres in the winter of 1914-15..

Trench conditions varied widely between different theatres of war, different sectors within a theatre, and with the time of year and weather. Trench life was however always one of considerable squalor, with so many men living in a very constrained space. Scraps of discarded food, empty tins and other waste, the nearby presence of the latrine, the general dirt of living half underground and being unable to wash or change for days or weeks at a time created conditions of severe health risk (and that is not counting the military risks). Vermin including rats and lice were very numerous; disease was spread both by them, and by the maggots and flies that thrived on the nearby remains of decomposing human and animal corpses.


Troops in the trenches were also subjected to the weather: the winter of 1916-1917 in France and Flanders was the coldest in living memory; the trenches flooded in the wet, sometimes to waist height, whenever it rained. Men suffered from exposure, frostbite, trench foot (a wasting disease of the flesh caused by the foot being wet and cold, constrained into boots and puttees, for days on end, that would cripple a man), and many diseases brought on or made worse by living in such a way.

How long would a man have to be in a trench?

General pattern for trench routine was 4 days in the front line, then 4 days in close reserve and finally 4 at rest, although this varied enormously depending on conditions, the weather and the availability of enough reserve troops to be able to rotate them in this way. In close reserve, men had to be ready to reinforce the line at very short notice. They may have been in a trench system just behind the front system or in the dubious shelter of a ruined village or wood. The relief of a unit after its time in the front by a fresh one was always an anxious time, as the noise and obvious activity increased the risk of attracting enemy attention in the form of shelling, machine-gun fire or even a raid at the very time when the manning of the position was changing. Once the incoming unit had relieved the outgoing one, various precautionary actions would be taken. At least one man in four (at night, and perhaps one in ten by day) were posted as sentries on look-out duty, often in saps dug a little way ahead of the main fire trench. They would listen for sounds that might indicate enemy activity, and try to observe such activity across no man's land. The other men would be posted into the fire trench or support trench, in sections. Unless they were a specialist such as a signaller or machine-gunner, men would inevitably be assigned to carrying, repair or digging parties, or sent under cover of dark to put out or repair barbed wire defences.


Other than when a major action was underway, trench life was usually very tedious and hard physical work. Officers had to ensure that there was if possible a balance between the need for work against the enemy, on building and repairing trench defences and for rest and sleep. This could only be done by a good system with a definite system of rotas and a work timetable. Obviously, in times of battle or extended alerts, such a routine would be broken, but such times were a small proportion of the time in the trenches. The main enemies were the weather and boredom. The loss of concentration - leaving oneself exposed to sniper fire, for example - could prove deadly. At dawn and dusk, the whole British line was ordered to 'Stand To!' which meant a period of manning the trench in preparation for an enemy attack.


All of the men posted to the fire trench and most of those in the support trench had to wear their equipment at all times. Men in the front line had to keep their bayonets fixed during hours of darkness or mist, or whenever there was an alert of enemy activity. A man could not leave his post without permission of his immediate commander, and an officer had to approve him leaving the trench. One officer per Company was on trench duty at all times, and his NCOs had to report to him hourly. He was under orders to move continually up and down his assigned trenches, checking that the equipment was in good state, that the sentries were alert and that the men were as comfortable as the conditions allowed. The NCOs had to inspect the men's rifles twice daily and otherwise ensure that fighting equipment and ammunition was present and in good order. From mid-1915, every trench had some form of warning of gas attack. Often this was an empty shell casing, held up by wire or string, that would be hit (like a gong) with a piece of wood or similar. If the gas gong was heard, all officers and men would know that they had to put on their gas masks as soon as they could. Some of the gasses used were invisible, and if their delivery by gas shells popping on impact with the ground had not been heard, they could sometimes be detected by their distinctive smell. Every day, the battalion holding the line would request from the nearby Brigade workshop a list of stores it needed. Some special items such as wire 'knife rests' (a wooden support for a barbed wire entanglement), signboards, boxes, and floor gratings would be made up at Brigade and brought to the trenches ready to use. Sandbags, wood, cement, barbed wire, telephone cable, and other supplies would also be sent up as needed. Men would be sent back to Brigade as a carrying party to fetch it.


Rations and other supplies were invariably brought up at night, under cover of darkness. This was of course known to the enemy, who would shell and snipe at the known roads and tracks leading up to the front. The units holding the front would try to position their mobile field cookers so that the men could be provided with a hot meal, but this was not always possible. The men in the trenches would also cook especially breakfast - using braziers in the trenches and dugouts. It was important that smoke from fires was masked so as not to give away a position



The tragic story of the 16th Irish Division, which ended with its expungment from Irish history, could not have had a worst start when the British military establishment refused to recognise, in even the smallest detail, Irish willingness to provide an autonomous formation as the reborn nation's contibution to the 'Great Fight for Civilisation'. Lloyd-George, who was the British Prime Minister for the latter part of the war, included the following damning indictment of Kitchener in his War memoirs:

"......But unhappily for the country, [Kitchener] maintained his dislike for the Irish Division. This formation represented poor John Redmond's last effort to bring Ireland effectively into the war. He addressed recruiting meetings throughout Ireland, and his eloquence won thousands of young Irish Nationalists and Catholics to fight under the standard of freedom and justice raised by the British Empire. 36

His brother, William Redmond, one of the best loved members of the House of Commons, took a commission in this new unit, and he subsequently fell fighting under the British flag in France. But Lord Kitchener did his best to damp the ardour of the Redmonds. He refused commissions to educated young Irishmen of the class and type who were being made officers in England, Scotland and Wales, for no conceivable reason except that he distrusted and disliked their nationalism. The culminating incident will take an invidiously prominent place in the tragic history of Irish relations with Great Britain.

Nationalist ladies, fired with enthusiasm for the new Irish Division, for Mr Redmond and for the cause to which they were devoting themselves, embroidered a silken flag with the Irish harp emblazoned upon it. At the same time the patriotic ladies of Ulster were embroidering the Red Hand of Ulster on the flag which they designed to present to a division which was being raised in Ulster. In due course the two flags were presented to the respective divisions. One was taken and the other left.

When Lord Kitchener heard of the green flag and its Irish harp he ordered that it should be taken away. But the Ulster flag was allowed to wave gloriously over the heads of the Orange soldiers of the Protestant north. Ireland was deeply hurt. Her pride was cut to the quick, her sense of fair play was outraged, her sympathy with the Holy War against the military dictatorship of Europe was killed, and John Redmond's heart was broken. He ought to have appealed to Parliament, but he probably knew it was too late to avert the evil. From that moment the effort of Irish Nationalism to reconcile England and Ireland by uniting the two peoples in a common effort for the oppressed of another land failed, and Lord Kitchener's sinister order constituted the first word in a new chapter of Irish history."

David Lloyd George: British Prime Minister



Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, the small British land forces, at that time established for colonial and home defence duties, had to be rapidly expanded. Lord Kitchener's call for volunteers, made to a receptive audience in most parts of the British Empire, was answered by thousands.These enthusiasts would form Kitchener's New Army.Kitchener's thirty New Army divisions would supplement the six divisions of Regulars and the fourteen of Territorials. The first six New Army divisions were geographically-based, e.g. 9th(Scottish), 10th(Irish), 12th(Eastern).

The raising of the 10th(Irish) Division was in accordance with the well-established practice of recruitment of Irishmen to fight in the British Army. There had been Irish Regiments in the British Army from the late 1600s.

Kitchener's Army was to have 360 battalions. The new battalions would be allocated to existing regiments and known as Service Battalions. The established Irish Regiments of the Line were:

The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers The Royal Irish Fusiliers The Royal Irish Rifles The Royal Irish Regiment The Connaught Rangers The Leinster Regiment The Royal Munster Fusiliers The Royal Dublin Fusiliers


July 1914: Redmond presents a colour to the Maryborough Volunteers

Initial recruitment to the 10th(Irish) Division Service Battalions of the Irish regiments was considerably below the numbers joining English, Scottish and Welsh regiments. Although recruitment to the Ulster-based 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles was satisfactory, by the end of August 1914 the numbers joining the other two Ulsterbased regiments, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, had not reached 20% of that required. The reason for the lack of enthusiasm in Ulster lay partly in the political situation in Ireland that had reached an explosive crisis point in the summer of 1914. This situation had threatened to bring the British Army into action in order to suppress the protestant Ulster Volunteer Force.


The rebellious antagonism of this 85,000 strongprivate army to the re-introduction of an Parliament for the whole of Ireland in Dublin, an antagonism reflected in and supported by the opposition Unionist(Tory) Party at Westminster, and many Army officers, made its well-armed, by gun-running from Germany in April, and wellorganised members determined not to be marched away to a European warand leave Ulster to be governed internally from Dublin. The UVF's political leader was Sir Edward Carson MP.

An opposing private army had been formed in the south of Ireland. This was the Irish Volunteers. Much less politically-homogenous than the UVF, the Irish Volunteers included those whose sought a constitutional solution under the British Crown, 'Home Rule', and those who wanted an independent Irish Republic. Although at 180,000 the Irish Volunteers were more numerous than the UVF, they were poorlyarmed and generally untrained. In late July, an attempt to land arms from Germany, just like the UVF, resulted in British troops killing several unarmed civilians in Dublin. John Redmond MP, a Irish Party constitutionalist, was the nominal political leader of the Irish Volunteers.

For many weary years Home Rule or 'The Irish Question' had bedevilled the British Parliament. The Union of 1801 that had abolished the Irish Parliament was despised by the Roman Catholic Irish. It had not saved Ireland from appalling misery, death and depopulation in the famines of the mid-nineteenth century. It had refused Catholics the same voting rights as many protestants and denied them many basic human dignities. However, Irish agitation throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth had secured the final passage of a Home Rule Bill in May 1914. Only the Royal Assent was needed to make it law.


was during the expectation of Civil War in Ireland that the powers of Europe entered the sequence of action and counter-action that was to lead inexorably to the Great War. For Britain the causus bellum for her declaration of war on 4th August was the German invasion of Belgium. For Britain the 'freedom of small nations' was of overriding concern, a sentiment that all the Irish Volunteers shared.

The immediate effect of the declaration of war was the eclipse of the Irish problem. Overnight the Liberal Government, its political allies, and the Opposition Unionists were united. The smouldering tinderbox of sectarian Ireland was extinguished by the certainty of a much greater international conflagration.Amongst the Government's allies was the Irish Party led by John Redmond. Crucially he agreed with Prime Minister Asquith that the implementation of Home Rule should be put off for the duration of the war, or one year, whichever was the longer. Sir Edward Carson agreed not to introduce an amendment to maintain the union in respect of six mainlyprotestant counties of nine-county Ulster. No-one, except Kitchener, expected the war to last as long as a year.

Even before the declaration of war both Redmond and Carson had promised support for the British war effort. Redmond had been acutely conscious of public opinion in respect of Home Rule. But neither Redmond or Carson initially intended that their Volunteers should join up to fight in Europe. Their offers had been to protect Ireland and thereby release regulars for France or elsewhere.

At separate meetings with Kitchener in early August neither Redmond or Carson had not been able to persuade the War Director to incorporate their Volunteersinto the structure of the British Army. Redmond continued to hold out for wholesale incorporation of the Irish Volunteers as a defensive force.


Not a great man - but a great poster": Anon

But by late September Carson had been authorised to recruit men for a New Army Division to be known as the 36th(Ulster) Division. The facility with which the 36th(Ulster) Division recruited throughout Ireland reflected very much on the empathy between these erstwhile rebels and the officer corps of the British Army. The division required all recruits to sign the Solemn League and Covenant that pledged opposition to Home Rule in Ulster. It was pleased to be recognised as the Orange Division because of the inseparable association of the UVF and the Orange Order, a militant anti-Catholic organisation. It was the first British military formation since the English Civil War to have an overt political credo.

Redmond still pressed for a distinctly Irish Brigade. He could see that Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, each autonomous within the British Empire, were preparing to contribute their own military units. 42

Why could not Ireland, with the Royal Assent about to be given to the Home Rule Bill, be regarded as an equivalent source of men? Unfortunately for Redmond, for Britain and for Ireland, the man to whom he had to address that question was the supreme War Lord, Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

Kitchener was paramount in the British military. He had first achieved fame by his defeat of the primitive Mahdist forces at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. His scorched earth policy and his introduction of concentration camps for civilians finally secured victory for Britain in the second Boer War. He was appointed War Secretary in 1914 and immediately began a highly-effective recruiting campaign in Britain for his New Army. Kitchener was dogmatic to an extreme. He typified many of the characteristics of the British governing class that were detested by the Irish. Not the least of these was his self-conviction that no-one could tell him anything about the Irish Problem. He had indeed been born in Ireland and had been brought up an overbearing and cruel soldier father before being sent to Switzerland to be educated. It was to this autocrat that Redmond made his request for a distinctly-Irish unit to be created.

Kitchener continued to turn Redmond down. Private armies, and Irish ones at that, were anathema to him. He was not impressed by the Home Rule Bill. This rejection was a great blow to Irish aspirations, not to mention pride. It was the first of many British blows that, in the end, were as fatal to the longevity of the 16th(Irish) division as were German bullets.

Recruitment to the 10th(Irish) Division had picked up but the creation of second Irish Division still seemed doubtful. Many Irish recruits were choosing non-infantry units and corps; the Army Cyclists Corps was popular. Some, even well-known Nationalists, were enlisting in the Regular battalions rather than the new Service battalions.


John Redmond addresses a recruitment meeting in Wexford.

In September, with the 36th Division now recruiting strongly, Redmond was now approached for assistance in the recruiting effort for the 16th. One of its three Brigades, the 47th, consisting of four Service Battalions, would be specifically intended to receive members of the Irish Volunteers. Hitherto Redmond had not been prepared to accept that the Volunteers would be liable for overseas service. He came under increasing pressure from the British military to alter this view. He was told that no Volunteers would be accepted if they were not prepared to serve abroad. The Royal Assent to Home Rule was given on 18th September. The news was greeted with excitement in Catholic Ireland. Two days later, Redmond, speaking near Woodenbridge in Co Wicklow, implicitly encouraged the Irish Volunteers to fight abroad in the cause of a small nation, Belgium, struggling, like themselves, to be free.


16th Division Christmas Card 1917.

Redmond had been caught between a rock and a hard place. If he did not encourage his followers to support the British war effort, they stood to lose the Home Rule Act. Another argument for enlistment was that it would be to the Irish Volunteers' advantage to become as well-trained and experienced as their potential foes, now joining the 36th(Ulster) Division. Notwithstanding that pragmatism, Redmond fervently hoped that the great dangers to be shared with the 36th would reconcile the Irish factions and lead to a united Ireland. Many Catholic Irishmen, from North and South, amongst them thousands of National Volunteers, followed Redmond's call and enlisted in the 16th(Irish) Division. The Irish Volunteers, a broad front, split. The Redmondites became known as the National Volunteer Force. The title 'Irish Volunteers' remained with those who would rather fight against the British than for them. Although they did not yet know it, the Redmondites, by their adherence to the cause of the British Empire, had marched off the stage of Irish politics for ever and left it to the hard-liners. They applauded this exit; they would put on their own show soon enough.




A Machine Gun Corps post in a barn near Haverskerque April 1918

The Machine Gun Corps of 1914-1918 No military pomp attended its birth or decease. It was not a famous regiment with glamour and whatnot, but a great fighting corps, born for war only and not for parades. From the moment of its formation it was kicking. It was with much sadness that I recall its disbandment in 1922; like old soldiers it simply faded away. So said former machine gunner George Coppard, in his epic autobiography "With a machine gun to Cambrai"


The formation and development of the Corps

Early days

In 1914, all infantry battalions were equipped with a machine gun section of two guns, which was increased to four in February 1915. The sections were equipped with Maxim guns, served by a subaltern and 12 men. The obsolescent Maxim had a maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds, so was the equivalent of around 40 well-trained riflemen. However, production of the weapons could not keep up with the rapidly expanding army and the BEF was still 237 guns short of the full establishment in July 1915. The British Vickers company could, at most, produce 200 new weapons per week, and struggled to do that. Contracts were placed with firms in the USA, which were to produce the Vickers designs under licence.

The need for specialist skills

The experience of fighting in the early clashes and in the First Battle of Ypres had proved that the machine guns required special tactics and organisation. On 22 November 1914 the BEF established a Machine Gun School at Wisques in France, under Major C. Baker-Carr, to train new regimental officers and machine gunners, both to replace those lost in the fighting to date and to increase the number of men with MG skills. A Machine Gun Training Centre was also established at Grantham in England.


An infantry Maxim machine gun team during the First Battle of Ypres.

The Machine Gun Corps is created.

On 2 September 1915 a definite proposal was made to the War Office for the formation of a single specialist Machine Gun Company per infantry brigade, by withdrawing the guns and gun teams from the battalions. They would be replaced at battalion level by the light Lewis machine guns and thus the firepower of each brigade would be substantially increased. The Machine Gun Corps was created by Royal Warrant on October 14 followed by an Army Order on 22 October 1915. The companies formed in each brigade would transfer to the new Corps. The MGC would eventually consist of infantry Machine Gun Companies, cavalry Machine Gun Squadrons and Motor Machine Gun Batteries. The pace of reorganisation depended largely on the rate of supply of the Lewis guns but it was completed before the Battle of the Somme in 1916. A Base Depot for the Corps was established at Camiers 50

The MGC is re-equipped

Shortly after the formation of the MGC, the Maxim guns were replaced by the Vickers, which became a standard gun for the next five decades. The Vickers machine gun is fired from a tripod and is cooled by water held in a jacket around the barrel. The gun weighed 28.5 pounds, the water another 10 and the tripod weighed 20 pounds. Bullets were assembled into a canvas belt, which held 250 rounds and would last 30 seconds at the maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute. Two men were required to carry the equipment and two the ammunition. A Vickers machine gun team also had two spare men.

The infantry begins to be revolutionised.

In 1914 the light Lewis gun was in experimental stage. It was a shoulder-held aircooled light automatic weapon weighing 26 pounds and loaded with a circular magazine containing 47 rounds. The rate of fire was up to 700 rounds per minute, in short bursts. At this rate, a magazine would be used up very quickly. The Lewis was carried and fired by one man, but he needed another to carry and load the magazines. Lewis guns were supplied to the army from July 1915, initially to six selected Divisions and then to more as they were produced in increasing numbers. The original official establishment was 4 per infantry battalion (and per cavalry regiment), but by July 1918, infantry battalions possessed 36 each and even Pioneer battalions had 12. This very significant increase in battalion firepower enabled new and successful infantry tactics to be devised.


British Vickers machine gun crew wearing anti-gas helmets. Somme 1916

Machine gun tactics develop

There are many instances where a single well-placed and protected machine gun cut great swathes in attacking infantry. Nowhere was this demonstrated with more devastating effect than against the British army's attack on the Somme on 1 July 1916 and against the German attack at Arras on 28 March 1918. It followed that multiple machine guns, with interlocking fields of fire, were an incredibly destructive defensive weapon. The German army developed their Hindenburg Line, to which they withdrew in spring 1917, and relied greatly on machine guns for defence. The British copied this. In addition, both offensively and defensively, the MGC began to fire in co-ordinated barrages.


The guns of the 2nd and 47th (London) Divisions fired an indirect barrage over the heads of their advancing infantry, and behind the German trenches (in other words, this was an interdiction barrage, to stop enemy attempts to reinforce or re-supply their front), during the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915. This was possibly the first time an indirect fire tactic was borrowed from the artillery. Later, and certainly by the Battle of Messines in June 1917, machine gunners were also employing creeping barrages, with fire falling ahead of the artillery barrage to catch enemy troops moving to the rear. They would concentrate fire on specific targets, or sweep the enemy ground behind his front and support positions. Machine guns for these tasks were generally placed about 1000 yards behind the advancing infantry and were moved up as soon as the enemy positions were captured. Machinegun tactics had in fact, become more like those of the artillery than of the infantry.

Firepower is further increased

A further proposal to provide each Division with a fourth Company, and to increase the Lewis guns at the battalion to 16, was sanctioned. The Lewis numbers were delivered by 1 July 1916, but the Divisional Machine Gun Company did not come into existence until April 1917. From then onward, there was one MGC Company for each of the three Brigades plus one under Divisional command, in each Division.

The establishment of the MGC

A total of 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC, of which 62,049 were killed, wounded or missing.


The Boy David: the memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park in London.

"Saul has slain his thousands; But David his tens of thousands".


Battle of Guillemont and Ginchy

3rd to 6th September Battle of Guillemont. 9th September Battle of Ginchy

This village is situated about six and a half miles east of Albert, and is located on the junction of the D64 and D20 roads.

Guillemont held out for some time during the Somme battles, with attacks here on the 30th of July and the 8th of August before the village was finally taken on the 3rd of September, 1916. The 20th (Light) Division was instrumental in taking the village, and this action is described in their Divisional History. In the morning, their line was just to the west of the village, probably just a little closer than the position of Guillemont Road Cemetery today and, further north, running past the site of Guillemont station. Thier objective was to take the village, and continue east past the 55

The ruins of Guillemont Station.

The attack had been postponed several times, partly due to poor weather, but the plan was to attack the village from north, west and south. Assembly trenches were dug north of Guillemont Station to aid the nothern attack, and at 6 a.m. on the 3rd of September, 1916, a bombardment commenced. The infantry attacked here at noon. The attack also employed 'push-pipes', and liquid fire, innovations which were also employed by the British elsewhere on the Somme battlefields in 1916. The attack went well, although there were casualties, and the second objective (the eastern side of the village) was taken by 1.30 p.m., although there was fierce hand to hand fighting within the village of Guillemont itself. The third objective (see the 20th Division Memorial details below) was reached later, but the final objective could not be taken that day. Attacks to the north near Ginchy were not succesful, and the Germans counterattacked at Guillemont.


16th Division Memorial Cross in Guillemont

However, the next day (the 4th of September) the 20th Division troops pushed forwards again, and reached their final objective. They were supported by troops from the 16th (Irish) Division (who also took Ginchy on the 9th of September), and there are memorials to both Divisions in or near Guillemont. There is also a lot more to see, both in the village itself and in the surrounding area.

Guillemont Village

The church in Guillemont stands on the main road through the village. Just to the left of the church is a memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division. This is essentially the same design, a Celtic cross, as the Divisions memorial at Wytschaete . On the front of the memorial at Guillemont is inscribed "1914-1918 - In commemoration of the victories of Guillemont and Ginchy September 3rd and 9th 1916 in memory of those who fell therein and of all Irishmen who gave their lives in the great war. RIP."


Battle of Messines and the Capture of Wytschaete

7th to 9th of June Battle of Messines 7th June Capture of Wytschaete

The battle for Messines ridge which commenced on June the 7th 1917 was hailed as a triumph in strategy. Following the harsh lessons learned on the Somme the previous year, the taking of Messines ridge preceded the main Third Battle of Ypres (or Passchendaele), and was General Plumer's more cautious approach using "bite and hold" tactics. Rather than attempting to making sweeping gains on a wide front with very large numbers of troops, the attack on Messines ridge was one of limited, but realistic, objectives, utilising a "creeping barrage" and preceded by the detonation of nineteen mines. The overall front of the Messines offensive was around nine miles, stretching from near Hill 60 in the north in a crescent shape reflecting the German held salient or bulge here, to St. Yves just above Ploegsteert Wood in the south. 58

Wytschaete in ruins.

Wytschaete Known to the troops as "Whitesheet", and now marked on maps as Wijtschate, this small village is about a mile north of Messines, on the main N365 road that leads from Ypres to Armentieres. As you approach from the north, you can see the church of Wytschaete dominating on the high ground. This ridge was obviously of great benefit to the Germans, in that they overlooked the British positions on the lower ground, and hence the operation to take this ground. Wytschaete lay more or less in the centre of the front on which the attack was made. The first day advance made gains on a wide front of around one to two miles - which may not sound a lot, but when compared to the first day of the Somme was an impressive achievement. Also, advances were made along the whole of the attack front - rather than only in certain sectors. The village of Wytschaete was taken, and the British advanced around a mile beyond it on June the 7 59

Memorial to the 16th Irish Division at Wytschaete Military Cemetery.

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them"


The Battle of Pilckem Ridge, 31 July - 2 August 1917

Tasked with securing the Passchendaele-Staden Ridge, Gough's Fifth Army was given the responsibility for assaulting the German occupied uplands to the north-east and east of Ypres.

The opening battle of ‘Third Ypres’ was preceded by weeks of tremendous and barely concealed preparations. The artillery bombardment, of unprecedented scale, culminated in a stunning crescendo at the moment of Battle of Pilckem Ridge 31 July-2 August: Stretcher bearers struggling in mud carry a wounded man to safety near Boesinghe on 1 Augustassault, 3.50am, 31 July. In mist and semi-darkness, British infantry advanced behind a precise and deafening 'creeping barrage', across a battlefield dramatically illuminated by bursting shells and flares. Widespread early progress was made across the shattered German outpost lines. Notably, in the north, XIV Corps got across the Pilckem Ridge and, in the centre, XVIII and XIX Corps troops rapidly closed on the Steenbeek; by 8am St Julien was occupied by the 39th Division. Further south II Corps, pressing up the Gheluvelt Plateau through the shellthrashed woods either side the Menin Road, were slowed (and later halted) by difficult ground, unbroken wire, unsuppressed pillboxes and heavy German shelling. In the early afternoon, after the onset of persistent drizzle, the advanced troops at the centre of the attack met increased German resistance and progress halted.


In increasingly heavy rain determined German counter-attacks forced a British withdrawal; but these counter-thrusts were held and the line of advance consolidated.

Despite being ordered that evening to continue the attack, the relentlessly wet conditions brought Gough's first assault to an end. During the following two days the newly advanced positions were held in appalling conditions by desperate fighting in the face of ferocious German counter-attacks and shelling. The battle saw considerable gains but no glimpse of breakthrough and Gough was compelled to renew the attack as soon as the weather conditions allowed.


The Battle of Langemarck, 16 - 18 August 1917

The exceptionally wet August weather turned parts of the Ypres battlefield into a quagmire, frustrating Gough's hopes for a speedy resumption of the offensive. An action against the Gheluvelt Plateau was attempted on 10 August (with few positive gains), but the main attack, Battle of Langemarck 16-18 August: A 6-inch howitzer is manhandled past some ruins near Boesinghefollowing further weather related postponements, could only be renewed on 16 August. Aspects of the ensuing fighting went very seriously wrong.

Impelled by the complex timetable underlying the great 'Flanders Offensive', Gough again launched a broad-front assault designed to advance Fifth Army's line at least as far as his original objectives set for the opening battle on 31 July. In the wake of a creeping barrage eight British Divisions attacked in atrocious conditions at 4.45am on Thursday 16 August on a frontage of roughly 12,000 yards. The pattern of fighting was disappointingly familiar: limited success in the north; costly failure in the centre and south; widespread heavy casualties. Notably in the centre and south the British bombardment failed to destroy the German batteries and field defences; devastating enemy shelling and relentless machine-gun fire from numerous surviving concrete pillboxes and fortified farms exacted a terrible toll on the attackers.


The tragic failures of the 16th and 36th Divisions on the open slopes of the Zonnebeke spur, and the destruction of 56th Division within the confusion of blighted woods on the Gheluvelt Plateau, epitomised the desperate ordeals endured by the assaulting troops. Mid-morning saw all progress in the centre and south halted; subsequent well organised German counter-attacks forced British withdrawals.

By early evening exhausted remnants of units were back or near their start lines. The end of the day saw no breakthrough; an advance of around 1,500 yards was made in the north; virtually no progress elsewhere. British casualties were estimated at 15,000.


Attack North of Bullecourt 20th November 1917

By autumn 1917, three years into the war, continuous shelling and lack of drainage had transformed the Ypres salient into a waterlogged quagmire, and he looked for an alternative venue to use his tanks. Lieutenant-Colonel John Fuller of the Tank Corps and General Julian Byng, commander of 3rd Army, recommended that a massed assault by 400 tanks should be mounted across the firm, chalky ground to the southwest of Cambrai. Haig adopted this proposal, confident that the tanks would punch a whole through the Hindenburg Line and allow a breakthrough.

A diversionary attack was set up to draw the Germans away from the actual area of the intended attack. The diversionary assault was to be eight miles to the northwest of Cambrai, where the British line passed through the villages of Bullecourt and Fontaine le Croisilles . The units selected to make this subsidiary attack were 3rd Division and 16th (Irish) Division.

The 10 RDF, as part of 16th (Irish) Division, were involved in the attack at Cambrai, where, according to the divisional historian, the "swift and successful operation by 16th Division was a model of attack with a limited objective." They captured 3,000 yards of trench, and took 635 prisoners from the German army's 470th and 471st Regiments and 330 German bodies were counted in the trenches. More importantly though, the diversionary assault contributed greatly to the initial success of the 65

An aerial photograph taken after the war, in the Summer of 1920, of the part of the Hindenburg Line which faced the British at Bullecourt. The Tunnel Trench part of the German Line would have beenhalf a mile off camera on a leftward continuation of the Hindenburg Line. The camera is above no man’s land, looking east of northwards, on a bearing of about 30°. The road at bottom left is that from Bullecourt to Fontaine-lès-Croisilles. The road running from front to back of the picture is that from Ecouste-Saint-Mein, behind the British line, to Hendecourt, behind the German line - this is the modern D956. The inscription ‘S.W. Bullecourt’ is misleading, the point indicated is just outside the north-west corner of the village. In the photograph, the Hindenburg support line trench extends across the background, to the north of the village and has a dense strip of wire in front of its trench. The general line of the front line trench passes across the centre of the picture, from left background to right foreground. By the end of the war the village had been destroyed and appears only faintly here, to the right of the road.

The defences of the Hindenburg Line opposite their positions consisted of Tunnel Trench, a heavily defended front-line trench, with a second, or support trench, some 300 yards behind. The whole area was scattered with concrete machine-gun forts, or Mebus, similar to those that had decimated 16th Division at the Battle of Langemarck three months earlier. 66

16th Division, attacking on a three-brigade front, was assigned the task of capturing a 2,000 yard section of the trench network. On the right flank of the Irishmen, 3rd Division's 9th Brigade was detailed to capture an additional 800 yards. One unusual feature of the attack was that there was to be no preliminary bombardment as surprise was the key to the success of the operation. Once the assault began, though, 16th Division's artillery, reinforced with guns from the 34th Division, would open a creeping barrage upon the German positions.

The morning of the advance, November 20th, was overcast, with low visibility. At zero hour, 06.20, the Divisional 18 pounder-field guns opened fire, and the leading assault companies sprang from their jump-off positions. At the same time, Stokes mortars began to lay a smoke barrage upon the German trenches in imitation of a gas attack. 67

This deception proved successful, as many German troops donned cumbersome gasmasks and retreated to the underground safety of the tunnel, thus leaving the exposed portion of the trench undefended.

On the left flank, the attack of the 49th Brigade was launched by 2nd Royal Irish Regiment and 7/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers. They quickly crossed the 200 yards of noman's-land and reached the enemy frontline just as the barrage lifted. Resistance above ground was minimal, and storming parties began the task of flushing the Germans from the tunnel with Mills bombs and bayonets.

In the centre, 10th and 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers headed the attack of the 48th Brigade. The advance here was so rapid that the Irish found many Germans still wearing gas masks and unable to fight. Two more Mebus, Juno and Minerva, were stormed and many more prisoners taken, particularly by 10th Dublin Fusiliers which captured 170 Germans.

Leading the attack on the right flank was 6th Connaught Rangers and 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, both of which belonged to the 47th "Irish Brigade". After capturing their assigned section of Tunnel Trench, two companies of Rangers pressed forward to assault the strong points known as Mars and Jove. The Rangers worked around to the rear before pressing home with the bayonet.

The front was finally stabilised three days later when 7th Leinster Regiment recaptured and consolidated Jove and successfully assaulted the untaken section of Tunnel Trench.

On the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, General Byng's eight attacking Divisions achieved complete surprise and pierced the Hindenburg Line, driving the Germans back four miles towards the town of Cambrai. They captured 8,000 prisoners and 100 guns for the loss of only 5,000 British casualties. Unfortunately, Byng lacked 68

Although the capture of Tunnel Trench contributed greatly to the early success at Cambrai, it proved costly as the battalions involved had suffered 805 casualties. Most of these occurred close to Jove Mebus, where the Connaught Rangers had engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.

Perhaps an idea of the ferocious nature of this form of trench warfare can be gleaned from Father William Doyle, chaplain of the 8th Dublin Fusiliers, who remarked, "We should have had more prisoners, only a hot-blooded Irishman is a dangerous customer when he gets behind a bayonet and wants to let daylight through everybody."


The Battle of St Quentin, 21-23 March 1918

The colossal German offensive launched on 21 March, following the largest bombardment ever seen on the Western Front, resulted in spectacular successes but failed to achieve the outright breakthrough sought by Ludendorff. Slowed by the innumerable defiant actions of outnumbered garrisons in isolated British redoubts, the end of the day, contrary to German expectations, saw the greatest gains achieved against Gough’s Fifth Army on the front from St Quentin to the Oise. The night of 21/22 March witnessed a frenzy of activity as near-reeling British Divisions readjusted to the incursions into their defensive zones and German forces were reinforced to inflict further damage.

Dense mist again prevailed on the morning of the 22 March; a day of intense and continual fighting. Third Army continued to hold ferocious German assaults in its Battle Zone until mid-afternoon when its centre was forced back producing scenes of disarray on the Bapaume-Cambrai road. More seriously Fifth Army, under incessant pressure began to show worrying signs of collapse. No longer holding a continuous front, extensive enemy infiltration between its units destroyed any semblance of coordinated defence; in the bewildering turmoil of exhausting and never-ending small retirements British casualties were heavy.

The Germans were through the Reserve Line by evening. Facing an unprecedented disaster all available troops were hastily thrown into action on 23 March to bolster the failing Fifth Army but were unable to stop German infantry swarming over the Somme; PĂŠronne was evacuated. A near forty-mile wide breach was made in the British line; Fifth and Third Armies became perilously separated. Haig ordered in his depleted reserves, desperately sought further aid from the French and in high anxiety for the safety of the entire BEF ordered the construction of new rear defence lines on which to hold the expected continued German onslaught.



William Nolan POW.


William's brother John writing to enquire about him.



Letter from the Red Cross November 1918


Confirmation of William's Death December 1918


Correspondances between the British Army and Elizabeth Nolan






Memorial Plaque and Scroll.

Memorial Plaque.


Dead-man's scroll.


In 1916 It was decided that some form of memorial would be established for presentation to the next of kin of those that died during the war. A government committee was established to decide the nature of this memorial, and in August 1917 it was determined that it would take the form of a bronze plaque, the design of which would be decided by a public competition with a winning prize of £250. The winner was Edward Carter Preston, whose now familiar 4 ž inches diameter (121 mm). Also included would be a commemorative scroll from the King and country.

Production of the Plaque began in December 1918 at Acton in west London, later transferring to the Woolwich Arsenal and other munitions factories . Over a million were produced, commemorating the sacrifice of men and women who died between the 4th August 1914 and 30th April 1920.

On the plaque itself no rank was recorded as the intention was to show equality in their sacrifice

The troops referred to them as "The Dead Man's Penny".


A "personal" letter from the King also accompanied the plaque.


Medal Card Index card File number WO372

The top of the medal card contains the soldier's name, rank(s), number(s) and unit(s).

The left hand side of the card contains a printed list of the campaign medals. A note in the 'roll' and 'page' column meant the soldier was awarded that medal. You may also see 'do', which meant 'ditto'.


William Nolan's War Medals

British War Medal

British War Medal reverse.


The British War Medal, instituted on 29 July 1919, was awarded to men who had provided service during and immediately after the First World War.

Initially intended to cover the period 1914-18 it was subsequently extended to those who had given additional service during 1919-20, typically in mine clearance and participation in operations in Russia, the Baltic, Siberia and the Black and Caspian Seas.

Royal Navy servicemen were required to have served for a period of at least 28 days before they were deemed eligible for the British War Medal (or to have lost their lives before then). Men who had enlisted with the O.M.F.C. but who had not seen action were not awarded the medal.

The 36mm medal was circular and made of silver. A bust of King George V featured on the obverse; St George on horseback was on the reverse of the medal, riding over the Prussian shield and skull and crossbones. The dates 1914 and 1918 also featured on the medal's reverse.

Although no additional Bar was made available, there were initial plans to permit such additional awards. Once it became clear however that both the army and navy intended to recommend sizeable numbers the idea was dropped.

In total some 5,670,170 BWMs were awarded, including 110,000 bronze medals awarded to Chinese, Indian and Maltese personnel who had served in labour battalions. Of the wider total approximately 600,000 BWMs were awarded to servicemen from Britain's colonies and dominions


Victory medal

Victory medal reverse


The Inter-Allied Victory Medal (generally referred to simply as the Victory Medal or as the Allied War Medal) was instituted following an agreement by fourteen Allied powers in March 1919.

Intended as a means of providing for a single medal across each of the Allies (removing the need for an exchange of Allied medals, although individual nations issued medals with slight variations), the medal was made from yellow bronze and was 36mm in diameter. The ribbon was officially described as "two rainbows with red in the centre".

The obverse of the medal depicted the winged figure of Victory with her left arm extended while her right held a palm branch. The reverse of the medal contained the legend The Great / War For / Civilization / 1914-1919 across four lines, surrounded by a wreath.

The medal was awarded to all those who had served in the armed forces, as well as to civilians contracted to the armed services, and to those who served in military hospitals on the various battlefronts during wartime. Members of the British Naval Mission to Russia during 1919-20 and men involved in North Sea mine clearance operations were similarly eligible for the medal.

In Britain (and among her colonies and dominions) the Victory Medal was always awarded in concert with another medal, usually the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star or British War Medal.

No additional Bar was available to accompany the Victory Medal, although men Mentioned-in-Despatches wore an oak-leaf emblem along with the medal.


In Memory of Private W.NOLAN

74013, 48th Bn., Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) who died on 22 April 1918


Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission


Roisel Communal Cemetery

Country: France Locality: Somme

Location Information: Roisel is a small town 11 kilometres east of Peronne. The Communal Cemetery is on the east side of the road to Villers-Faucon and the Cemetery Extension is immediately to the north of the Communal Cemetery.

Historical Information:

Roisel town was occupied by British troops in April 1917, and evacuated after a strong defence by the 66th (East Lancashire) Division in the evening of the 22nd March 1918. It was retaken in the following September. Roisel Communal Cemetery Extension was begun by German troops, who buried immediately to the North of the Communal Cemetery. It was developed in October and November 1918, by the 41st, 48th, 53rd and 58th Casualty Clearing Stations, and it was completed after the Armistice by the concentration of British and German graves from the country North, East and South of Roisel. The following were among the burial grounds from which British graves were removed to the Extension:- Bernes Churchyard, in which 49 soldiers of the 46th (North Midland) Division and the Royal Field Artillery were buried in September 1918; and the German extension, in which one soldier from the United Kingdom was buried in September 1917. Hesbecourt Communal cemetery extension, in which 35 Australian soldiers and 28 from the United Kingdom were buried by the 59th (North Midland) Division in April 1917, and by Australian units in September and October 1918.


L'Abbaye German Cemetery, Vermand, between the village of Vermand and the hamlet of Villecholles, which contained the graves of 300 German soldiers and ten from the United Kingdom and one from Canada who fell in April and May 1917. Roisel Churchyard, in which one R.F.C officer was buried in August 1916. Vermand Communal Cemetery German extension, in which seven soldiers from the United Kingdom were buried by the enemy in March and April 1918. There are now 877, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, 120 are unidentified and special memorials are erected to 12 soldiers from the United Kingdom and one from Australia who are known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of two soldiers from the United Kingdom, buried in other cemeteries, whose graves could not be found on concentration. The graves of 88 soldiers of the United States Army buried here in October 1918, have been removed to another cemetery. There are also 514, German Foreign Nationals commemorated in this site, 190 being unidentified. The cemetery covers an area of 6,010 square metres and is enclosed by a rubble wall on three sides.

No. of Identified Casualties: 1081



In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.


Ireland's Memorial Record 1914-1918


References. 1) Ireland's 1901 and 1911 census. 2) Research on William Nolan's service record. 3) Service record documents. 4) Training to be a soldier. 5) In the trenches. 6) The 16th ( Irish ) Division. 7) The Machine Gun Corps. 8)Battle of Guillemont and the Battle of Ginchy. 9) Battle of Messines and the capture of Wytschaete. 10) Battle of Pilckem Ridge. ame=Pilckem%20Ridge&menu=subsub 11) Battle of Langermarck. ame=Langemarck&menu=subsub 12) Attack North of Bullecourt 13) Battle of St. Quentin. 97

A Soldiers Story  

This is a biography of a young 18 year man from Lucan,Dublin who served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who was killed in April 1918.

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