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The 6th (Militia) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles' non-involvement in the war 1 month 1 week ago #71648

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….Orders were received at the Sheffield Barracks yesterday that the draft of 300 men of the Royal Irish Rifles would not leave until early next month.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Friday 26th January 1900




….A most remarkable development of affairs, affecting the men of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles (Louth Militia), at present stationed at Sheffield Barracks, took place yesterday. A parade of the battalion was ordered in the morning, to ascertain the feeling of the men as to volunteering for active service in South Africa, and a staff officer from the headquarters of the North-Eastern District at York attended on behalf of the War Office to make the necessary report. It was not supposed for a moment that any of the militiamen would not volunteer, as about a week ago the Colonel of the battalion called a parade, at which the battalion, almost to a man, stepped forward and expressed their willingness to proceed to the front as soon as ordered.
….The report of this feeling was forwarded to the War Office, and orders were received a few days ago instructing the men to sail from England on the 21st inst. All were jubilant at the order, and the arrangements for departure were pushed rapidly forward. The men were measured for their khaki, and not a few of the soldiers were allowed leave to see their friends before they sailed. Most of the officers - likewise enthusiastic at the prospect of active service - took advantage of a day or two's leave to visit their relatives before proceeding to South Africa. But whilst all these arrangements were being made, seeds of discord were being sown, and copies of the "Dundalk Democrat and People's Journal," containing an antagonistic article - extracts of which are given below - were circulated about the barracks. Whether the circulation of the paper amongst the men was organised cannot be ascertained, but there seems to be little doubt that the article was to some extent effective.
….The parade of the battalion took place yesterday morning. In all there were 414 men on parade, a number being absent on leave. Colonel Jameson was in command, and the officers who remained in barracks were present. A number of civilians who had managed to get inside the barracks also witnessed the parade, but none were prepared for the result. After a few movements had been gone through, the men were drawn up in line, and those who did not wish to volunteer for the front were asked to step forward. In response to the order as many as 176 men stepped from the ranks. This result was unexpected. Not a word was said, and shortly afterwards the battalion was dismissed.
….Of course it is possible that amongst the 176 men who have not volunteered there may be a few who wish to remain at home in consequence of the condition of their health, or because of their wives and families. But it is a strange thing that practically the whole battalion volunteered a week ago, and that the paper quoted below has been received in the meantime. The name of the non-commissioned officer who is supposed to have written the letter to the "Dundalk Democrat" cannot be ascertained at the barracks, but his statement regarding the misunderstanding that the men laboured under is somewhat hard to believe.
….The article in the "Dundalk Democrat" commences by referring to a rumour that the whole of the battalion had volunteered for active service, and remarks that this conflicts greatly with the fact that as the men were on their way to Greenore Station en route for England they cheered Kruger and the Boers in face of their officers. The following letter, which is said to have come from a non-commissioned officer now with the battalion at Sheffield, is then quoted: -

…."The whole news here was that the regiment volunteered for the war. The Colonel was around the barrack rooms on Saturday asking the men to volunteer for the war. He told the men that did not want to go to the war to take a pace to the front.; the men did not understand him and they stood still; they thought it was the men that would volunteer that were to take the pace, and they stood still. So he telegraphed to the War Office that the whole regiment volunteered for the front. I hear on good authority that his offer was refused, that the regiment was too weak, that it must be over 712 strong. I am very glad that the offer was refused, for I would lay down my rifle and refuse to go, no matter what the penalty would be, and several hundreds forby me. There was only one company in the regiment that understood him and that was F Company. I enclose postal order for _____. Show this letter to _____. Let him tell Mr. Roe about it, but not to mention my name...……...He thought to make the Cork Militia of us, but he would find a mistake in it."

….The article then continues as follows: -

…."Apart from any other consideration, it is little short of wilful murder to send men like the Louth Militia, unfamiliar with the use of arms - for what avail is a month's training in the year? - to fight against deadly shots and practised warriors like the Boers. What chance have these poor fellows - raw lads, many of them, scarcely out of their teens, unused to hardship such as soldiers in the field have to endure - in a struggle that has already proved too much for the cream of the British army, men trained in England's little wars, hardened in campaigning, and expert in the use of rifle and bayonet? If these lads be sent to the front, they are sent to the certainty of death, wounds, or a Boer prison; and they will be fortunate if their lot be the last-named. And these are the sons of poor people in Dundalk and Drogheda and other parts of Louth; in many cases the bread-winners and sole dependence of aged parents. They are, in many cases, husbands and fathers, whose wives and families may be left widowed and orphaned, to starve or eat the bread of charity. Is not this a matter that concerns the whole community? There may be black sheep amongst thee poor militiamen; but, good or bad, they are 500 young Irishmen - Louthmen, at that, and our country is not so rich in men that it can afford the loss of these. They are 500 Irish Catholics. Are they to be sent out to be shot down like dogs, to die without the ministrations of religion, without the spiritual aid of a Catholic priest - victims in a cause that, almost to a man, they know to be bad and unjust, and which, for all this humbug of "volunteering," we pledge our conviction that nine-tenths of the battalion do not and cannot sympathise with?
….The militia are not bound to go on foreign service - unless they volunteer. And there must be no doubt about the genuineness of their volunteering. We do not suggest that Colonel Jameson has wilfully misrepresented the sentiments of his men. We do not for a moment suppose that Major Fortescue or any of the other officers has any desire to led an unwilling, not to say hostile, regiment into action. But we do say that if the writer of e letter we have quoted above is accurate in his statements, the Louths have not volunteered for active service, and must not be asked to go. And if any attempt be made to force them to do so, we think the great bulk of the people in this town and county, at all events, will approve if the Louth Militia carry out the intention which the writer of this letter credits them with, and "throw down their rifles and refuse to go" - refuse to go to be shot down, wounded, or taken prisoners, while English regiments are kept safely rear, as they had been in all the engagements in South Africa, where there were Irish or Scotch battalions to push into the front."

….That there is some hostile feeling in the barracks between the two sections of men cannot be doubted, and this is more pronounced on the part of those who have volunteered, some of whom declare that they will not associate with the other party again, but it is not likely that the annoyance will break out in any disturbance. It is difficult to obtain any certain information as to what has led so many men to hold back from active service, but inquiries all tend to show that the circulation of the "Dundalk Democrat" has had a good deal to do with it. The paper has been sent to a number of the officers, and not a few copies are among the men. One of the disaffected party, seen last night, stoutly disclaimed any sympathy with the Boers. He was a married man, h said, with several children, and that was his only reason for not wishing to go to the front. If he were a young man he would volunteer at once. He had not seen the "Dundalk Democrat," but had heard of the article it contained. The paper which he took was the "Herald," a loyalist organ. He said that a large proportion of the men who had not volunteered were married, like himself. He did not believe that the "Democrat" had been specially circulated in the barracks, or that the stepping forward which took place yesterday morning was the result of any pre-concerted plan. He admitted that among the non-volunteers were also a good many young men, and said he knew nothing of their motives. The fact that there are a lot of married men among the willing section was confirmed in further conversation with members of the battalion, but so far as the others, at any rate, are concerned, there seems no valid reason for their action unless the newspaper article referred to had some effect. With this is coupled the statement that there are several black sheep in the battalion, who were agitating the men before the first parade took place, and there is a widely-held opinion that these have been the causes of the remarkable occurrence of yesterday.
….Colonel Jameson, who commands the 6th Battalion, was seen by a representative of this paper last night, and expressed the greatest astonishment at what had occurred at the parade in the morning. The men, he said, were paraded in the barrack rooms about a week ago, and practically the whole of them volunteered for active service. There must have been some influence at work to cause such a change of feeling, but as the Colonel had not seen the Irish paper he could not say whether this was the sole cause of the change. He had been told what the article said concerning the departure of the battalion from Ireland, and he did not hesitate to say that the report mentioning the cheers from the men for Kruger and the Boers was absolutely untrue. Already, the Colonel added, some of the men who had not volunteered had changed their views, and were desirous of joining their comrades who were anxious to go to the front. No doubt there would be one or two "black sheep" in the battalion, and if they got hold of ies of the paper quoted they would be able to work a good deal of mischief. As to the visit of the officer from York, Colonel Jameson said he could not understand the reason, unless it was that the War Office had received copies of the paper referred to, and had sent someone to ascertain the feeling of the men. Naturally, the colonel flatly contradicted all suggestions in the "Dundalk Democrat" that the men were misled when asked to volunteer a week ago, and all inquiries amongst the officers confirm this. That all would come right in the end the colonel was certain, and he looks forward to the day - probably the 21st inst. - when he and the other officers and the men will sail for South Africa.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Saturday 10th February 1900



….A hundred of the men of the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (Louth Militia), at Sheffield, who had previously refused to volunteer for active service, came forward on Saturday last, and expressed their willingness to be enrolled. It is expected that the necessary percentage of volunteers has now been obtained, and, this being so, that the battalion will sail on the 21st. The proportion of those who have volunteered is regarded as quite satisfactory and it is probable that more will be enrolled during the present week.

Belfast News-Letter, Monday 12th February 1900

….In the Commons last night, Mr Patrick O'Brien asked the Under Secretary for War whether nearly 50 per cent. of the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (Louth Militia) stationed at Sheffield Barracks had signified their objection to go to the front in South Africa, and if so whether the men were within their rights in refusing for foreign service. And whether he would see that no undue pressure was put upon them to compel or induce them to go. Mr Wyndham: We have no information to this effect. I have informed the hon. member several times that commanding officers have received the most implicit orders to place no pressure on their men. The Secretary of State has no reason in the world to believe that this commanding officer has failed in his duty. Mr Patrick O'Brien: The Under Secretary asked me to postpone this question some days ago in order to make inquiries. Has he made inquiries, and ascertained whether the facts are as stated in the question? Mr Wyndham: I cannot at all accept the statement that I promised to make inquiries into this matter. I have more than once given the hon. member the statement I have made this afternoon. Mr P. O'Brien: At all events I shall be in the recollection of the House_____. The Speaker intervened, and pointed out that this could not be continued. Mr P. O'Brien: I will take the first opportunity I can get of raising this question of the kidnapping of Irish militiamen to send them abroad. (Laughter.)

Edinburgh Evening News, Friday 16th February 1900


The Latest Order.

Rejected for Foreign Service.

….Another forcible example of War Office red-tapeism is afforded by the latest order issue to the Louth Militia stationed at the Sheffield Barracks. As is generally known, the battalion was under orders to the front; everything was finally arranged, the khaki s had arrived at the barracks, and some, indeed, had been served out to the men; a large number of the men had been granted a few days' leave, and some are still in Ireland - and now we learn that for no apparent reason War Office orders have been received countermanding the order which was to start the battalion on its journey to the front on the 21st of the present month.
….This comes as a very unpleasant shock to all whom it concerns. The officers of the battalion have taken the matter to heart very seriously; the commanding officer feels it to be the greatest blow that he has ever experienced - and with regard to the real feeling of the men regarding volunteering, it is quite apparent that they, too, feel the order to be not only a slight, but an absolute and complete disappointment. Some of the officers have paid large sums for their foreign service kits, but it is gratifying to learn that the makers have generously offered to take these back.
….The order may be accounted for in this way. On December 15th, it will be remembered, 126 men left for the front. These men are now in South Africa, and, by all accounts, are rendering exceedingly good service. But on account of the loss of strength consequent on so large a draft being abroad, the battalion is very greatly weakened, for the strength has never been made up - although it would have been very easy to do this, and indeed it was due to the Corps and its officers that the strength should be brought up to the establishment. Consequently, although on paper the battalion is some 700 or 800 in number, when by medical examination ad other causes the non-fighting men have been weeded out, the commanding officer finds himself unable to supply the 600 which are asked for by the War Office. That is the reason, it is assumed, which has caused this otherwise inexplicable order. It is quite certain that the alleged "revolt" has ad nothing to do with the matter. The men want to go, and they are exceedingly aggrieved that they are not allowed to go. Their feelings have already been hurt very deeply by insults from the general public - insults which are entirely unmerited. Some of the men who are yet on leave do not know of the countermanding order, which was not received in the barracks until Tuesday night.
….The questions asked in Parliament by several of the Irish members on Thursday have been entirely ignored both by officers and men. They are apparently not considered worthy of notice.

Sheffield Independent, Saturday 17th February 1900


….A letter was received in London on Saturday stating that the Militia battalion of the Irish Rifles stationed at Sheffield, which were under orders to sail for the Cape on Wednesday next, had had their orders cancelled in consequence of a large proportion of the men having withdrawn their offer to serve abroad. It is believed that this action was the result of certain pro-Boers leaflets being distributed among the troops.

Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Monday 19th February 1900

The 6th Battalion was formerly the Louth Rifles; it was embodied on 6th December 1899, and disembodied on 17th October 1900. Headquarters was at Dundalk.

The Honorary Colonel was T. K. Lord Rathdonnell. Its officers were: -
Lieutenant Colonel Harry William Jamieson.
Major Arthur R. Cole Hamilton.
Captains James Rosborough, William F. Colborne-Garstin, Charles William Soden, Claude George Cole-Hamilton, William Farquharson, George Sydney Cary.
Lieutenants Alexander Arthur Fenwick T. Steavenson, Lewis W. A. Algeo.
Second Lieutenant Harry M'Mullen Pearson.
Adjutant & Captain - Quarter Master J. Foley.
(Source - Hart's army list, 1906)

Hillsborough Barracks, Sheffield en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsborough_Barracks


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