'I must to England.
I pray you give me leave.'
Early in October, 1903, the 2nd Battalion at length heard the good news that the date of their departure from Aden had been definitely fixed, and on the 23rd of the month it sailed in the s.s. Soudan, arriving at Queenstown late in the evening of November 9th. The tour of foreign service had lasted for twenty years all but two months, and only one man in the whole battalion had seen it through from start to finish without coming home, the present quartermaster, Lieutenant J. Burke.
The 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers left England for Gibraltar on January 9th, 1884, and in February, 1885, proceeded to Egypt, where it was quartered first at Ramleh, and later on at Cairo. Early in 1886 the battalion went to India, headquarters being stationed successively at Poona, Nasirabad, Karachi, Quetta, and Bombay.
In May, 1897, it was suddenly ordered to South Africa, and quartered at Maritzburg, as already stated in the opening chapter.
The details were at Buttevant, County Cork, and thither the battalion proceeded on their arrival in Ireland.
Just two days prior to the arrival home of the 2nd Battalion the regiment had been honoured by having appointed as its Colonel-in-Chief Field-Marshal H.R.H. A. W. S. A. Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, K.G., K.P., K.T., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.I.E., G.C.V.O.
On November 13th, 1903, the battalion proceeded to Dublin to attend a public reception and also to receive their medals at the hands of H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught. The following is the account of the proceedings as published in the Irish Times of November 14th, 1903, to whom the thanks of the regiment are due for their kindness in permitting its reproduction:--
(Extract from 'Irish Times,' Saturday, November 14th, 1903.)
HOME-COMING OF THE ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS.
The officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers may well feel proud of the reception accorded them on their return to their native land and city after a long and arduous service under the British flag in foreign lands. There was quite a contest for places on the gallery in the great Central Hall of the Royal Dublin Society's buildings at Ballsbridge to see the heroes of a regiment which had gained undying laurels in Burmah, India, and South Africa. Exceptional arrangements had been made for the entertainment of the battalion at Ballsbridge, and the reception committee, which had for its chairman the Earl of Meath, must be congratulated on the manner in which they carried out the entertainment and provided for the enjoyment of such a large number of guests. The arrangement of the hall was admirable in every respect. At the further end a slightly-raised daïs was placed and profusely decorated with palms and evergreens, and immediately behind the chair subsequently occupied by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught was the regimental emblem introducing the figures of an elephant and a tiger; the former bringing to mind the doughty deeds of the Dublin Fusiliers in Burmah and the latter their equally splendid record on the historic field of Plassey. At the back was the regimental motto, Spectamur Agendo, and the roof and gallery railings were handsomely draped with red, green, and blue muslin, while the names of the various engagements in which the men took part were prominently displayed. On the right-hand side of the hall four long rows of tables were placed, handsomely prepared for the dinner, while the centre of the building facing the daïs was kept clear for the men to be drawn up in proper formation to receive H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught. The spacious galleries reserved for ticket-holders were crowded long before the hour fixed for the ceremony, 12.30 o'clock. Shortly before 10 o'clock a large number of reservists of the battalion, about 250, and some reservists from other battalions of the regiment assembled at the Marshalsea Barracks, and under the command of Captain Perreau, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Adjutant 5th Battalion, and Major Baker, D.S.O., marched viâ Thomas Street, Cork Hill, Dame Street, Nassau Street, Merrion Square North, Lower Mount Street, and Northumberland Road to Ballsbridge. The men were dressed in civilian clothes, but wore their medals and other decorations, and many showed by their appearance that they, too, had played no insignificant part in the recent campaign. They were accompanied by the massed bands of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Battalions Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The 2nd Battalion of the regiment arrived from Buttevant by train at the Ballsbridge siding at 11.30 a.m., and marched across the roadway into the Royal Dublin Society's premises. A great crowd of people watched the men detraining, and several hearty rounds of cheering greeted their appearance. The men looked in splendid form as they defiled into the main hall and took up the positions allotted to them. It was at first stated that the strength comprised 25 officers, 2 warrant officers, 8 staff sergeants, 54 sergeants, and 528 rank and file; but the figures given yesterday were 18 officers and 523 rank and file. Be the numbers as they may, the appearance of the men thoroughly maintained the regimental nickname of 'The Old Toughs.' Hardy, wiry warriors they looked--thoroughly capable of accomplishing the daring and courageous deeds which have covered the Dublin Fusiliers with special glory. It is worthy of note that the majority of the non-commissioned officers served through the South African campaign from the Battle of Dundee, and that Lieutenant and Quartermaster Burke is the only remaining one who left England with the battalion nineteen years ago. The officers and men of the battalion were dressed in general service (khaki) uniform, and carried their rifles and bayonets. They also wore Indian helmets with puggarees, while the mounted company were attired in the clothing suited to this, particular branch of the Service. They were under the command of Colonel Tempest Hicks, C.B., Colonel English, and Major Fetherstonhaugh, and when they marched into the hall and took up position on either side, in line of half-battalions, they were greeted with loud cheering, and when the order 'stand at ease' was made a number of reservists and other friends rushed forward to exchange greetings with former acquaintances. There was nearly a half-hour's wait for the arrival of the Duke of Connaught, and in the interval the bands of the Fusiliers and Warwickshire Regiment played some selections. At a quarter-past twelve precisely, H.R.H. the Commander of the Forces in Ireland arrived in an open carriage, accompanied by H.R.H. the Duchess of Connaught and Princesses Margaret and Patricia of Connaught, and attended by the following staff: Major-General Sir William Knox, Major-General Sir John Maxwell, Colonel Hammersley, Colonel Davidson, Colonel Dickinson, Colonel Congreve, V.C., and Major Murray, A.D.C.
The Duke, who wore the uniform of a Field-Marshal, was received by the following members of the reception committee: Major Domville, D.L. (vice-chairman), Mr. Justice Ross, Sir Wm. Thompson, Sir Charles Cameron, C.B., Major Davidson Houston, Colonel Finlay, Colonel Davidson, Major-General Sir Gerald Morton, K.C.B., Colonel Paterson, Colonel G. T. Plunkett, C.B., Captain Lewis Riall, D.L., Colonel Vernon, D.L., and Alderman Harris.
Major-General Vetch, commanding the Dublin District, was accompanied by Major Lowndes, A.D.C., Major Gilles (Brigade-Major), and Captain Fox Strangways (Garrison Adjutant). A guard of honour of the Royal Irish Rifles was drawn up outside the Show Buildings, and the band of the regiment played the National Anthem when the Duke and Duchess of Connaught drove up.
Their Royal Highnesses having taken seats on the daïs, the Duke of Connaught, who spoke in a tone which was easily heard in all parts of the building, said, 'Colonel Hicks, officers and non-commissioned officers, and men of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, allow me to welcome you most warmly home again to old Ireland after your very arduous four years' service. I am sure I am only the mouthpiece, not only of the General Officer Commanding this Army Corps, but also of every loyal Irishman, when I assure you how warm and how hearty is the greeting that is given you on your return to your native country, and especially in this capital of Ireland. You are an old and distinguished regiment; raised originally for service in India as the Royal Madras and Royal Bombay Fusiliers. During the time that you bore this name and the numbers 102 and 103, you took a very honourable part in all those great battles that assured us the conquest of India. Now, since the year 1881, you have become closely associated not only with Ireland, but with its capital. Your first service since you became the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was in South Africa, and through the arduous services in that country you, men, whom I have now the honour of addressing, nobly maintained the traditions of those fine soldiers who went before you. When you were sent from India amongst the first reinforcements of the troops in South Africa in 1897--soon afterwards the war broke out--you took a leading part in the Battle of Talana. You then went back to Ladysmith, and after falling back across the Tugela, you were attached to the army of Sir Redvers Buller, in the Irish Brigade under General Hart. During all those weary months on the Tugela, you took a leading part in every action that took place, and you distinguished yourselves so much at Pieter's Hill that when the relief force of Ladysmith marched in, the general officer commanding gave you the post of honour, and you led the troops that marched into Ladysmith. (Cheers.) Men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, this occasion is one of especial pleasure and satisfaction to myself, as His Majesty has done me the great honour of appointing me your Colonel-in-Chief--(cheers)--and I hope that in this you will recognise not only His Majesty's high appreciation of the distinguished services you have rendered to his throne and his empire, but also that you will see in it his wish that you will have some special mark of distinction when he has made me, his only brother, Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment. I hope I shall long have the honour to be your Colonel-in-Chief, and to have a connection with a regiment of which every Irishman feels so proud.' (Cheers.)
Colonel G. T. Plunkett, C.B., read the following letter, received from the Earl of Meath, H.M.L. for the County and City of Dublin:--
'MY DEAR PLUNKETT,--Owing to absence from Ireland, I shall be unable to be present in person with you on the 13th, when you and the Reception Committee entertain the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers on their return home from foreign service, but I shall be with you in spirit, and I hope you will let the officers and men know how sorry I am that I cannot personally welcome them on their return to Ireland, and to Dublin, after so many years spent abroad in the service of their Sovereign.
'The fame which the regiment has acquired by daring deeds of valour performed during the late war has travelled far beyond the shores of Ireland. Military men the world over, and all who have studied the South African War, have heard of the famous deeds of the Dublin Fusiliers. The citizens of the Metropolitan county and City are proud of the men who, mindful of their origin, have known how to make the name of Dublin to be honoured in all lands. Both officers and men have done their duty to King and country, and we, their Irish brothers, accord them a hearty welcome on their return to the dear land of their birth.
'Believe me, yours sincerely,
'H.M.L. for County and City of Dublin.'
The Duke of Connaught then said: 'I have been particularly requested by His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to assure you of his warm welcome. He is away in England at present, but he has sent his military secretary and senior A.D.C. to represent him, and to give you his warmest wishes.' (Applause.)
His Royal Highness then distributed the medals and other distinctions to the officers and rank-and-file of the battalion who were entitled to them. The following officers were decorated, the Duke cordially shaking hands with each recipient:--Colonel Hicks, C.B., Colonel English, Major Fetherstonhaugh, Major Carington Smith, Captain H. W. Higginson, Captain Cory, D.S.O., Captain Garvice, D.S.O., Lieutenants Grimshaw, D.S.O., Haskard, Britton, Wheeler, St. George Smith, Knox, Tredennick, Seymour, Robinson, and Maclear, and Lieutenant and Quartermaster J. Burke and Sergeant-Major Sheridan. His Royal Highness pinned distinguished-conduct medals on the breasts of Lieutenant and Quartermaster J. Burke, Corporal Connell, and Privates C. N. Wallace, M. Farrelly, and M. Kavanagh, each recipient being loudly cheered.
The following officers who had served with the battalion during the war, but who had previously come home through wounds or sickness, availed themselves of the opportunity to have their medals presented to them by the Duke:--Captain Downing, Captain Dibley, Lieutenants Renny, Supple, Newton, Weldon, Molony, Armstrong, and Cooper. The distribution of the medals occupied over half an hour.
When this important portion of the programme had been completed, the order to 'stack arms' was given, and the men filed into their seats at the four long rows of tables which had been admirably prepared for the dinner by the caterers, Messrs. Mills & Co., of Merrion Row. Messrs. Mills & Co. had a picked staff of forty-two persons to carve the various dishes and wait at table. Dinner consisted of several courses, with selected fruit; while in addition to liberal supplies of ale, stout, and mineral waters, 300 bottles of champagne were placed before the honoured guests. This last-mentioned luxury was the generous gift of Messrs. Perrier-Jouet & Co., of Epernay, the famous wine shippers, who kindly and thoughtfully presented this supply of their extra-quality wine through their Irish representatives, Messrs. James McCullagh, Son & Co., 34 Lower Abbey Street. When the guests were seated, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, the Duchess of Connaught, and the Princesses Margaret and Patricia of Connaught, with the Reception Committee, a number of ladies, and a resplendent military entourage, walked slowly down between the rows of tables, stopping to speak a few gracious words to the non-commissioned officers and men who had made themselves conspicuous even amongst their comrades for valorous deeds and unflinching devotion to duty. Many of the reservists who sat beside former 'chums' at table, and on whose less warlike garb, the ordinary civilian clothes, medals and clasps shone out in high relief, also received kindly congratulations from the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland. Meanwhile the string band of the 21st Lancers, who occupied a good position on the gallery, played a beautiful selection of airs, principally Irish, not the least being 'The Wearin' of the Green.' The Royal party on walking down the centre of the hall was enthusiastically cheered, and the Duchess and her daughters left the building at about half-past one.
The Duke remained for lunch with his staff and the officers of the battalion. The health of His Majesty the King was drunk amidst much enthusiasm. After dinner, cigars and cigarettes and tobacco were liberally distributed, officers of the regiment performing most of this agreeable duty, and each man was presented with a nice briar pipe before leaving, the gift of Messrs. Lalor & Co., of Nassau Street.
In the interval between dinner and leaving the premises at Ballsbridge, many friends and relatives of the members of the battalion were afforded an opportunity for a pleasant chat, and most of these accompanied the men in their subsequent march through the city. One figure attracted much attention during the afternoon--a sturdy soldier who formerly belonged to the Royal Dublins, and who appeared in the quaint, and, in this country, unusual uniform of a West African regiment. It would be certainly less than unwarranted to refer to the general appearance and behaviour of the men. Clean, smart, soldierly fellows, they all appeared to be impressed with the one idea--that they belonged to a crack corps with unrivalled traditions to maintain.
The departure from Ballsbridge occasioned unbounded enthusiasm on the part of thousands of eager spectators, who, unaware of the exact time at which the entertainment would finish, had patiently waited for a couple of hours to catch a glimpse of the 'Old Toughs.' The main thoroughfare from the Show-grounds to Pembroke Road was lined by detachments of the Warwickshire, East Lancashire (with band), and Middlesex Regiments, while a guard of honour of the Royal Irish Rifles (with their band) was stationed opposite the main entrance. About 3.15 o'clock H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, preceded by two mounted policemen and an escort of the 21st Lancers, drove out, and passed over the route to be traversed immediately afterwards by the Fusiliers. The Field-Marshal was loudly cheered as he proceeded to the Royal Hospital, and repeatedly returned the cordial salutations of the large crowds who were assembled at different points. The appearance of the fêted warriors was the signal for an astonishing ovation at Ballsbridge.
The scene was a striking one. A splendid body of the 21st Lancers, numbering fifty, occupied first place in the procession, and these were followed by four or five bands and the heroes of the day. Another detachment of fifty Lancers brought up the rear, and a number of men of the same dashing cavalry regiment marched on either side of the advancing column. Many relatives and friends of the Fusiliers had now an opportunity to exchange greetings, and strict army discipline was at an end. There was nothing reprehensible, however, and the progress to Kingsbridge was of the most orderly and praiseworthy description.
The route followed was the main road from Ballsbridge--Pembroke Road, Upper Baggot Street, Lower Baggot Street, Merrion Row, Stephen's Green, North Grafton Street, College Green, Dame Street, Parliament Street, and the south lines of quays to Kingsbridge. At different points, like Baggot Street Bridge, Stephen's Green, and Grafton Street, the reception was of a most cordial nature, while an immense crowd in College Green raised deafening cheers as the sturdy warriors marched past. Enthusiasm reached its height when the tattered colours of the battalion, borne by two stalwart young ensigns, came into view. The officers and men appeared delighted with the cordial reception extended to them on all sides. At Grattan Bridge the band of the Seaforth Highlanders, which had already delighted a large concourse of people with some choice selections, struck up a lively air as Dublin's guests moved past, while a splendid send-off characterised the entrainment of the battalion at Kingsbridge for Buttevant, co. Cork.
The Railway Company made excellent arrangements for the men, who, considering their long day and its happy experiences, went through the ordeal in first-class style. After all, one could scarcely expect less from soldiers who carry six or seven, or even nine clasps, on their medal ribbons.
It is right to mention that a number of members of the Army Veterans Association, decorated with their medals and other distinctions, visited Ballsbridge, and cordially congratulated the Fusiliers on their return from foreign service.
On reaching Buttevant, the men will be supplied with new clothing and granted a general furlough.
* * * * *
Shortly after the reception the battalion was once again supplied with their home service full-dress head-gear--the busby, and it was with much gratification that the men wore their new busby hackle for the first time. This distinction was granted in 1902, when by Army Order 57 it was directed that the Royal Dublin Fusiliers should wear a blue and green hackle in their busbies: that for the officers to be blue and green, eight inches long, and that for the non-commissioned officers and men a similar but shorter one, in recognition of their services during the war in South Africa. In explanation of the colours of the hackle it may be stated that blue is the distinguishing colour of the 1st Battalion ('Blue Caps'), and green that of the 2nd Battalion ('Old Toughs').
On November 27th, 1903, the regiment was honoured by having appointed as its Colonel Major-General W. F. Vetch, C.V.O., commanding Dublin Garrison, vice Lieut.-General Sir John Blick Spurgin, K.C.B., G.C.S.I., deceased.
General Vetch joined the 102nd Foot on March 8th, 1864, was promoted Lieutenant, July 1st, 1869; Captain, May 22nd, 1875; Major, June 18th, 1881; Lieut.-Colonel, June 7th, 1884; Colonel, June 7th, 1888; and Major-General, April 1st, 1900.
After a quiet and uneventful stay at Buttevant for nearly three years the battalion proceeded to Fermoy on September 14th, 1906, and took up quarters in the New Barracks at that station.