The Evolution of the Regular and Service Battalions of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) 1914-1918 – Part 6, The 9th (Service) Battalion (County Armagh)/9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion.

Here may be found the background to this work and links to similar studies of the other Battalions of the Regiment.

This material is taken, from Blacker’s Boys Appendix 6; it has been summarised and is updated here based on new information received since publication.

'B' Company, 9th (Service) Battalion, Princess Victoria's (Royal Irish Fusiliers) (County Armagh) in early-1915

‘B’ Company, 9th (Service) Battalion, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) (County Armagh) in early-1915

The First to Enlist

The first men to enlist into the County Armagh Battalion of the 2nd Brigade of the Ulster Division did so over six days beginning on 15 September 1914. Uniquely in the history of the Regiment, the men of this first draft were all Protestant and many were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. They were mainly from County Armagh, with the majority from the north of the county around Lurgan and Portadown. There were some men from Counties Cavan and Monaghan, the other traditional recruiting areas for Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers), and some from Counties Down and Antrim, and from Belfast.

The reported strength of the new battalion, when it formed at Clandeboye Camp on 21 September 1914, was 842 men. A little over forty more joined over the next few days before regimental numbers were issued. Of this first batch of recruits, the first to enlist in the County Armagh Battalion, 781 men have been identified by name.[1]

Of the known men, 652 sailed with the Battalion for France in October 1915. For a further 41 men there is no record of when they deployed to France and joined the Battalion.[2]

Enlistments between October 1914 and July 1915

Following the arrival of the first volunteers at Clandeboye, recruiting continued apace. Recruits joined the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers at Clandeboye directly until the formation of the depot company, which became responsible for the basic training of recruits after the Battalion left for Seaford in July 1915. This responsibility passed to the 10th (Reserve) Battalion when it was formed in September 1915. In general, men who enlisted before the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers moved to Seaford embarked for France with the Battalion in October 1915. Those who enlisted after July 1915 joined later as reinforcements from the 10th (Reserve) Battalion.

The absence of complete records makes it impossible to determine exactly the number of men who enlisted into the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers and the number discharged under King’s Regulations or transferred in the months that followed their enlistment. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify 440 men who enlisted between October 1914 and July 1915 and who joined the Battalion.

Of these, 17 men were discharged or transferred; 358 men are known to have embarked with the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in October 1915; and 65 men served with the Battalion in France but they joined sometime after the main body had arrived.

In summary, the lowest estimate of enlistments between September 1914 and July 1915 is 1,282 men—1,221 have been identified by name. Of these, 1,010 are known to have landed in France with 36th (Ulster) Division in October 1915, with a further 106 men arriving in France sometime later.[3] The remainder were discharged, or transferred, or were posted elsewhere.

It is noteworthy that 332 of these men, a third, were killed in action, died of wounds, or died of illness, injury or accident.

Reinforcement Drafts

Following a period of familiarisation and training, the Battalion took its turn in the line north of Albert throughout the first half of 1916. 36th (Ulster) Division spent most of this time in two sectors astride the River Ancre with the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the other battalions of 108th Brigade, in the northern sector at Hamel.

Until the attack at Hamel on 1 July 1916, small drafts and individual reinforcements arrived from the 10th (Reserve) Battalion. These new men had enlisted in the latter half of 1915 and early 1916 and were from the same Ulster Protestant background as the Battalion’s original members. In addition to the large reinforcement drafts detailed below, as the war progressed the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers also received men from all of the other battalions of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) as they filtered through the reinforcement cycle. These men were a mix of regular soldiers, men recalled from the Army Reserve, men who had enlisted as Special Reservists, and wartime volunteers. They also represented both Catholic and Protestant communities and, although mainly from County Armagh, they came from all over Ireland. They also reflected the drafts from English regiments that had been transferred to other battalions of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers), as explained in other essays. Many of those who had seen previous service had recovered from wounds, injury or sickness.

The first reinforcement of English soldiers took place after the attack on 1 July 1916. The attack had destroyed this fine battalion—it suffered 541 killed and wounded—and the 10th (Reserve) Battalion could not bring it fully up to strength again. On 8 August 1916 a draft of eighty-eight men of The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) arrived.[4] This was followed by a draft of 103 men, mostly of The London Regiment, on 26 November.[5] The final body of reinforcements to arrive in 1916 comprised 89 men of The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) that arrived on 12 December.

Corporal (later Company Quartermaster Sergeant) F MacMahon

Corporal (later Company Quartermaster Sergeant) F MacMahon

After the attack on 1 July 1916, and having been reconstituted, 36th (Ulster) Division moved north to Ypres, where it went into the line near Wytschaete. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers suffered a trickle of casualties as it held the line and raided along the River Douve and at Spanbroekmolen. It was not until the attack on 16 August 1917, the Battle of Langemarck, that the Battalion was again nearly destroyed and in need of massive reinforcement—on that occasion it suffered 456 officers and men killed, wounded and captured.

In September the largest draft to join the Battalion since its formation arrived. It comprised over 570 men compulsorily transferred for duty as infantry from the disbanded 2nd North Irish Horse, X Corps Cavalry Regiment. The majority of the Battalion now comprised the men of the North Irish Horse and it was duly renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion.

The final action of note in 1917 was the attack at Moeuvres during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, in which the Battalion suffered 89 all ranks killed and wounded.

Following the reorganisation of the infantry of the British Expeditionary Force in early 1918, the 7th/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers was disbanded. The war diary of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers records that a draft from the disbanded battalion arrived comprising 213 men.[6]

Sergeant F S Homersham DCM, MM

Sergeant F S Homersham DCM, MM

In late-March and early-April 1918 the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers suffered grievously for the third time being all but destroyed in the retreat from St Quentin and at Ypres. At this time the reserve battalions of the Irish regiments were reorganised compounding the problem of the lack of Irish reinforcements. The fourth draft of English soldiers was the second from The London Regiment and comprised 122 men. The Battalion also received a small draft of 14 men transferred from The Royal Irish Rifles.

On 8 June the Battalion was brought closer to its full strength by a large draft of 186 men, most of whom had been compulsorily transferred for duty as infantry from the Army Service Corps (105) and the Army Veterinary Corps (68).

The final phase of the war began for the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers with an attack in August 1918 north-west of Bailleul and the Battalion was then in almost constant action until 26 October. In this period it received its final draft of reinforcements—137 men transferred from The Royal Irish Rifles.

'B' Company, 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion, Princess Victoria's (Royal Irish Fusiliers), Mouscron, November 1918

‘B’ Company, 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers), Mouscron, November 1918

Details on each of these drafts may be found here: Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) 1914-1918 – Reinforcement Drafts

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1. (Back) Detail about the enlistments into the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers between September 1914 and July 1915 may be found here.
2. (Back) This is based on an analysis of medal rolls and medal index cards. The records may be incomplete. Most of these men will have arrived in France by early 1916.
3. (Back) The Battalion’s war diary reported that it landed in France with a strength of 995 other ranks; the discrepancy is a small one (15 men) and likely to be explained by men on the advance party or detached for duty elsewhere.
4. (Back) The Battalion’s war diary reported it as being 90 men strong.
5. (Back) The Battalion’s war diary records that the full draft was made up of ‘34 Irishmen, 102 Englishmen and 1 Russian’. Lieutenant Colonel Blacker, in a letter home, wrote that the draft comprised: ‘…three of our old men, 34 from the 10th Battalion, and 100 from London Territorials‘. The ‘Russian’ was 43314 Private Mat J Pyanowski from The London Regiment.
6. (Back) The war diary of the 7th/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers records it being 220 men strong.

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