The stories of the seven men commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Connecticut are finished and may be read here. Most were United States citizens but one was a British officer working as a small-arms inspector with Winchester and Remington, which were contracted to manufacture the P14 rifle.
The P14 Rifle
The ‘Rifle, .303 Pattern 1914’, known as the P14, was a new rifle, based on the design of the Pattern 1913 Enfield (the P13), an experimental rifle designed to fire a new .276 Enfield rimless cartridge, which had been developed as a result of experience during the Boer War. The outbreak of the First World War made the adoption of this new cartridge impracticable and, in essence, the P14 was the P13, built to accept the standard British .303 cartridge. 1,235,293 rifles would be manufactured by Winchester and Remington (and one of Remington’s subsidiaries). Initially issued in some numbers, the P14 was replaced in front-line service in 1916 by the ubiquitous Short Magazine Lee Enfield No.1 Mk3*, which was by then being produced in the United Kingdom in sufficient quantity. The P14 was then used primarily as a sniper rifle and was highly regarded for its accuracy.
In researching the essay about my great-great-uncle Moses Neill, I came across reference to the Royal Garrison Regiment, into which he enlisted in 1902. A search for information about the Regiment revealed little and the information that was easily found has proven to be wrong or inaccurate. A number of sources conflate the Royal Garrison Regiment with the earlier Royal Reserve Regiments; while it is true that the men of the latter were recruited for the former, these two organisations were raised at different times and for very different purposes. In the sections below, hyperlinks will lead to a transcription or copy of the relevant Royal Warrant or Army Order.
The Royal Reserve Regiments
Officers of the Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment, 1900
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in August 1916 have now been published and you can read them all on the project’s website. There is a familiarity to the tone of the letters; the Battalion is engaged in much the same work that it was in the Somme region prior to the attack on 1 July. The difference being the weather, the flies and the poor billets out of the line.
Cloth Hall, Ypres
Warrant Officer Class 2, Company Serjeant Major, George Mayer Symons, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), attached to the British Military Mission, died during the influenza epidemic at Camp Lee, Virginia on 8 October 1918. He was buried in Poplar Grove National Cemetery near Petersburg. Unfortunately, his grave marker was incorrectly inscribed. On Saturday 27 August I was privileged to attend the dedication ceremony for the new headstone. You can read about the ceremony here.
The new gravestone for George Symons, August 2016
2739 Private Moses Neill
Bugler Moses Neill in India
Moses Neill—known as ‘Mosey’—was the older brother of my great-grandfather William Neill. He served with The Royal Irish Rifles from 1890 for 12 years, including during the South African War, and a further two years with the Royal Garrison Regiment. Continue reading
My great-grandfather William Neill was the influence behind my exploration of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers that led to Blacker’s Boys. Since writing the book I have discovered other relatives who served during the First World War, and some who served during the Boer War and the Second World War. Each has a very different story (those without a link are yet to be written): Continue reading
Recently, two parallel pieces of research overlapped, out of which came an idea for a short piece about a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery that no longer exists. As with all things about the First World War, the story has more facets than at first may seem to be the case.
The CWGC register for Charleville Communal Cemetery, closed in 1962
The town of Charleville sits on the north bank of the River Meuse in the Ardennes department, the only department of France to be wholly occupied by the German army throughout the First World War. Famous for the Charleville musket—a mainstay of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence—and, more recently, as the birth place of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, in modern times the town merged with the adjacent town of Mézières. The latter was the capital of the Ardennes region, a function that now falls to the combined commune of Charleville-Mézières.
After falling to the German army early in the war, in September 1914 the town became the site of the supreme German headquarters, the component parts of which were established in the best homes, chateau and municipal buildings throughout the town. Continue reading
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in July 1916 have now been published and you can read them all on the project’s website. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers took part in the attack on 1 July and suffered grievously; the letters that follow are tragically sad. By the end of the month the Battalion is back in the line, much reduced but reinforced by men from the 10th (Reserve) Battalion. It has moved north, to a sector near Messines, south of Ypres, where it will remain until the summer of 1917.
The area over which the Battalion attacked on 1 July 1916.
The biographies of the six men buried in Rhode Island are now complete; two were American, two were British, one was Canadian and the nationality of one cannot be confirmed. One case is rather unusual: the ashes of Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett were repatriated to the United States from England over 40 years after his death in a flying accident.
Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett
Like many families from Ireland we had relatives who took part in the attack on 1 July 1916. Luckily, my great-grandfather Sergeant William Neill, the Transport Sergeant of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, did not ‘go over the top’ that morning and survived the attack. Less fortunate was his nephew—my first cousin, twice removed—Lance Corporal Thomas Bunting. He was serving in 8 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 9th Royal Irish Rifles in 107th Brigade and was reported as wounded and missing in that battalion’s follow-up to the main attack by 36th (Ulster) Division. He was 19 years old.
His family did not know his fate for many months. About a month after he was declared missing his father wrote to the Red Cross hoping that he was a prisoner of war. On 25 August 1916 the Red Cross replied—there was no record of him. Sometime in mid-1917 Thomas Bunting’s family were informed that his death was presumed to have occurred on or after 1/2 July 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated on the memorial at Dollingstown in County Down.
Lance Corporal Thomas Bunting, 8 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 9th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (West Belfast), killed in action 1 July 1916. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Read more about my family in the First World War.