The Evolution of the Regular and Service Battalions of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) 1914-1918

Background

Regimental Crest of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers)

During the course of my research when writing Blacker’s Boys, I was struck by how the homogeneous nature of the 9th (Service) Battalion changed as the war progressed. I also became aware that items of personal history—photographs, letters, diaries and so on—did not reside only in Northern Ireland but could be found elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in the home counties of the soldiers who joined the Battalion later in the war. In researching the history of the 7th and 8th (Service) Battalions, it has become clear that there is a paucity of primary source material immediately available in the museum in Armagh and I wondered if research into how the Battalions had evolved might point to a more likely source of information.

Additionally, one of the most common questions that I get asked by relatives of those who served with the Regiment is: “My (relative) joined the (name an English regiment). How did he end up in the Royal Irish Fusiliers?

This study will explain how each battalion of the Regiment evolved throughout the war years. I have divided it into six parts, which I hope will help others with their research and their understanding of the make-up of the Regiment during the First World War:

Part 1 provides a short history of the Regiment from 1914 to 1918 and explains why there were insufficient Irish soldiers available to replace the casualties suffered in the major actions.

Part 2 examines the 1st Battalion.

Part 3 will cover the 2nd Battalion.

Part 4 examines the 5th, 6th, 5th/6th & 11th (Service) Battalions.

Part 5 will cover the 7th, 8th & 7th/8th (Service) Battalions.

Part 6 examines the 9th (Service) Battalion (County Armagh)/9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion.[1]

The reserve and garrison battalions will be covered in subsequent essays.

These essays are supported by an Appendix that lays out the composition of all of the reinforcement drafts in more detail; it is organised, firstly, by battalion, and, secondly, by regimental number.  The Appendix will not be complete until the constituent parts of this work are published.

This work is the result of analysis of regimental numbers, enlistment information from medal & silver war badge rolls and surviving service records.[2]

The Process of Reinforcement

It is worth explaining some of the terminology of the process of reinforcement, which was similar for each theatre of war.

Taking France and Flanders as an example, the priorities for reinforcement drafts were derived from the requirements of the Corps and Armies and prioritised by General Headquarters (GHQ). Fulfilling these priorities was the responsibility of the infantry base depots (for more detail on base depots see this section in The Long, Long Trail), which were controlled by GHQ.

Men were posted to the infantry base depots in France (whether they were new men or those recovered from wounds or sickness) from one of a regiment’s reserve battalions. At the base depot men would undergo continuation training and be held until they were posted to their units. It was at the infantry base depot that men could be transferred between regiments to fulfill quotas. Such transfers were annotated in each man’s record of service, which was maintained at Headquarters Third Echelon. Reinforcement drafts were dispatched from the infantry base depots to corps reinforcement camps[3] based on the priorities and requirements set by GHQ. At the corps reinforcement camps the men were held in divisional depot battalions, also known as divisional wings, until they could be moved forward to their units.[4] At the corps reinforcement camp divisional wing men could also be posted to a different unit (i.e. posted to one of a number of battalions of his regiment in that division, e.g. to the 9th (North Irish) Horse Battalion rather than the 1st Battalion in 108th Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division). In addition to the transfers of men between regiments, soldiers of the Territorial Force who were transferred to Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) were transferred subsequently to the Regular Army—these transfers took place some months after the arrival of the men in their new units.

Those men who were evacuated subsequently through the medical chain, having been wounded or having fallen sick, were struck off the strength of their battalion when they left the theatre of operations. They were held on the strength of one of their regiment’s reserve battalions for the duration of their stay in the medical system. Those who were judged as likely to be able to return to active service were posted via a convalescent camp in the United Kingdom to a command depot[5], where they were brought to full fitness. If they were fit for general service as infantry, they were then posted back to one of their regiment’s reserve battalions for further training and would then re-enter the reinforcement cycle. Some men were not able to return to duty as front-line infantry and were posted to the Garrison Battalions or transferred to other corps, such as the Corps of Royal Engineers and the supporting services: the Labour Corps, the Army Service Corps, the Army Ordnance Corps, the Army Veterinary Corps, the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Defence Corps. Those whose wounds or illness prevented further service were discharged in accordance with King’s Regulations Paragraph 392. They were awarded the Silver War Badge.

Terminology

In describing the movement of men between units, the terminology used is that of the time. Men could be ‘detached from’, for example, the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers and ‘attached to’ another unit. In this case a man was temporarily attached to another unit for a particular purpose, but remained on the strength of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers. Men were attached to other units for diverse tasks such as service at the headquarters of 36th (Ulster) Division, duty with 108th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery, or service as railway guards. Posted’ meant that a man was moved to another battalion or unit of his corps. For men of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers this meant joining another battalion of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers). Those who were evacuated to the United Kingdom sick or wounded, were posted to the 10th (Reserve) Battalion. After the disbandment of the 7th/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers, men were posted primarily to the 1st and 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers. Transferred’ meant that a man was permanently moved to another corps. The men from other regiments who joined as reinforcement drafts were transferred from their regiments to Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) and posted to, for example, the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers. Finally, men were ‘enlisted’ into the Army or the Territorial Force and ‘discharged’ from them. This is pertinent to the Territorial Force reinforcements from The London Regiment. In accordance with the Military Service Acts 1916, they were discharged from the Territorial Force and re-enlisted into the Regular Army for service with Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers).


1. (Back) The information about the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion may be found in the introduction to Appendix 6 in Blacker’s Boys.
2. (Back) In this analysis I have identified the maximum number of men that transferred by a detailed examination of the Regiment’s medal rolls. The soldiers on the medal rolls fall into three broad categories: Regular soldiers; men who had enlisted into the Special Reserve; and the men who enlisted, or transferred into the Regiment, after August 1914. It should be noted that, throughout the war years, men could enlist into the British Army as regular soldiers but regimental numbers do not allow differentiation between regular enlistments and wartime volunteers. Wartime enlistments were allocated regimental numbers beginning around 11500—a very good guide to pre-war regimental numbers may be found on this excellent website: Army Service Numbers 1881-1918. Care should be taken with the regimental numbers allocated to Special Reservists. These were reused numbers in the 3###, 4###, 5### and 6### series. The rolls are incomplete because they do not include men who were later transferred to other Corps. Nonetheless, they, and other records (such as the index to medal index cards in the National Archives and existing service records) allow for a very good estimation of the numbers on men who were transferred in any particular batch of reinforcements. The term ‘have been identified’ refers to the number of men identified by name and is, therefore, the minimum number of men in any particular batch of reinforcements.
3. (Back) Pamphlet SS 152, Instructions For The Training Of The British Armies In France, states that corps reinforcement camps were ‘to train reinforcements in musketry and to continue the general training of reinforcements received during battle’.
4. (Back) Divisional depot battalions or divisional wings received, administered and trained reinforcements for units of their divisions until they were posted to their units. They also accommodated and administered those men designated as ‘battle surplus’, administered those men attached to divisional schools, and also those officers and men proceeding to and from leave.
5. (Back) There were three command depots in Ireland: at Ballyvonare, County Cork, at Tipperary, and at Randalstown, County Antrim.

2 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Regular and Service Battalions of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) 1914-1918

  1. Colonel Peter Walton

    I am Chairman of The Leinster Regiment Association and also protem Editor of its journal. I understand that in the course of research you have turned up a distinguished officer of (Royal Engineers or) Royal Signals who achieved the rank of Major in the 1st War, and then appeared later in the Leinster Regiment with whom he became a Corporal.

    I wonder if you would care to let us have this story in the form of an article for publication in our journal. In return we will of course publicise your work not least any particular aspect of it which relates to us.

    Reply
    1. Nick Metcalfe Post author

      Hello Peter.
      I’ll reply in detail by email later today. Thanks for getting in touch.
      Nick

      Reply

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