Category Archives: Royal Irish Fusiliers

Cather VC

Geoffrey Cather’s Victoria Cross

One hundred years ago today at Buckingham Palace, King George V presented the Victoria Cross to the families of five recipients who had either died in the act or been killed since. Amongst them was Margaret Cather, the widowed mother of Lieutenant Geoffrey St. George Shillington Cather VC, the Adjutant of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had so gallantly died on 2 July 1916 while out rescuing men who had fallen in the attack at Hamel the previous day.[1] When she died in 1939 her effects were left to her other son, Dermot, who later presented the Victoria Cross to the Royal Irish Fusiliers museum, where it resides today.[2]

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Blacker’s Letters – ‘Finis’

When the last commanding officer of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers signed off the final page of the Battalion’s war diary on 9 June 1919 he did so with a Gallic flourish – ‘Finis’. That is the word that most readily comes to mind as I write this.

After 444 letters recording the thoughts and comments of Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Blacker, the identification of nearly 300 men and women to whom he referred, and many footnotes to explain events, the Blacker’s Letters project has ended. The project was made freely available to read via the project’s website and on social media.

Blacker’s Letters also contributed to the BBC project Voices 16, and I am very pleased that it has been web-archived by the National Library of Ireland and will be added to the web archive of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

 

Blacker’s Letters – January 1917

Distinguished Service Order

 

Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the New Year Honours and when he returned from leave at the beginning of January 1917 he assumed temporary command of 108th Brigade. Nonetheless, he still found time to visit and comment about the activities of the Battalion. His letters home written in January have now been published and they can be read on the project’s website.

Blacker’s Letters – November 1916

The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in November 1916 have now been published and they can be read on the project’s website. The letters cover a wealth of subjects from equipment and clothing, to promotion and the award of medals, and, of course, the weather. In a few days Lieutenant Colonel Blacker will go home on leave and we won’t hear from him again until early January 1917/2017.

The Thornton Trench Coat - "New Thornton coat and long gum boots kept me quite dry in spite of rain and flood."

The Thornton Trench Coat – “New Thornton coat and long gum boots kept me quite dry in spite of rain and flood.”

 

Blacker’s Letters – October 1916

Lieutenant Colonel S W W Blacker DSO

Lieutenant Colonel S W W Blacker DSO

Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s letters home in October 1916 are all now published and you can read them all on the project’s website. His comments about the weather are reminiscent of those written the year before; this time, however, the Battalion must contend with the nearby River Douve, which regularly breaks its banks flooding the trenches. These letters reflect the routine of life for many in the line south west of Ypres—cold and boring in the most part with occasional flurries of activity and noise, described by Blacker as ‘hideous’.

Blacker’s Letters – September 1916

The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in September 1916 have now been published and you can read them all on the project’s website. The Battalion continues to settle into its new routine in increasingly wet weather.

The River Douve, which ran near the Battalion's trenches, flooding them when it burst its banks.

The River Douve, which ran near the Battalion’s trenches, flooding them when it burst its banks.

Blacker’s Letters – August 1916

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

Cloth Hall, Ypres

Blacker’s Letters – July 1916

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.

Blacker’s Letters – May 1916

The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in May 1916 have now been published and you can read them all on the project’s website. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers is just about to move out of the line with the other battalions of 108th and 109th Brigades, 36th (Ulster) Division, to train and prepare for the forthcoming attack. The letters that will follow in June are hopeful of success…

Blacker's Letters

Blacker’s Letters