Introduction‘Ireland’, wrote Bryan Cooper in the closing sentence of his book The Tenth (Irish) Division in Gallipoli, ‘will not easily forget the deeds of the 10th Division’.1 Yet, almost a century after it was raised, only a stained glass window in the Guildhall, Derry exists in the land from which it took its title to mark its service. Until the late 1980s and early 1990s, except in the north, there was little interest in Ireland’s involvement in the Great War and even there interest was skewed towards the 36th (Ulster) Division. The period since has seen a renewal of interest, particularly in light of the Northern Ireland peace process, resulting in the recognition of a shared history between communities, not only in Northern Ireland but across the whole island. Not only have recent years seen the establishment of groups interested in the disbanded Irish regiments, such as the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, it has also seen the renovation of the memorial gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin which had lain derelict for almost a generation. Rehabilitation of those Irishmen who fought in the British army reached a zenith in 1998 with the opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines in Belgium by Queen Elizabeth II and Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland. But this monument, built to commemorate where the unionist 36th (Ulster) Division and the nationalist 16th (Irish) Division fought side by side against a common enemy on the Western Front, makes only a passing reference to those who fought on other fronts (at Gallipoli, in the Balkans and the Middle-East) with the 10th (Irish) Division.
Ireland’s apparent amnesia towards the 10th (Irish) Division began early. Despite the enthusiastic send-off given to the division when it left Ireland in May 1915, and the shock felt by the casualty returns following Gallipoli, by the end of the war it had been eclipsed in the public mind by the events of Easter 1916 and the Somme.
When Peace Day celebrations marking the signing of the Treaty of Versailles were held in July 1919 throughout the British Isles, in parts of Ireland they were marked by a degree of ambivalence. In Belfast, however, a programme of parades, entertainment and sporting events was held for the men of the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions and their respective communities.2 By comparison, the contribution made to the war effort by the 10th (Irish) Division passed almost unacknowledged. One (nationalist) newspaper observed the contrast between the reception given in Belfast to the 16th and 36th Divisions with that of ‘the poor 10th, sad and heroic, having their little function at the Gresham Hotel, nobody noticing them – while all this fanfare from Belfast fills the air!’.3 Apart from an oblique reference in the republican ballad, ‘The Foggy Dew’, written in 1919, which claims ‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky, Than at Suvla or Sedd el Bahr’, the 10th (Irish) Division appears to have passed from Irish collective memory even to the extent of it being the only Irish division not to have had a divisional history published. And yet, while the men of the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions may have shared a common experience on the Western Front, in the main, they did so separately. In contrast, the men of the 10th (Irish) Division, unionist, nationalist, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, trained, lived, fought and often died side by side.
This book not only belatedly rectifies an important omission from Ireland’s historiography of the First World War but also offers a new approach to the study of divisional history by adopting a holistic methodology, setting the division within the context in which it was raised and served, and assessing the representativeness of its experience by comparing and contrasting its development with the 13th (Western) Division, raised at the same time. It also offers a new approach to the exploration of unit identity which allows a more detailed level of analysis, not only of ethnicity but also of age, religion, employment and social background, than previously undertaken.
This book breaks new ground in the identification of individual soldiers by using regimental medal rolls, rather than depending on Soldiers died in the Great War as the basis of its analysis. Although it was not possible to identify all the original members of a battalion from regimental medal rolls, their use, cross-referenced with casualty lists, obituaries, rolls of honour and unit histories enabled the identification of 60-70 per cent of the original members of those divisional units which landed at Gallipoli in early August 1915. Cross-referencing this information with other sources, such as service, census and war graves records has enabled conclusions to be reached regarding the social and economic backgrounds of the rank and file. The superiority of this approach to the use of Soldiers died in the Great War (SDGW), even as a source of identifying deaths among original members of a battalion, is most effectively demonstrated by the data extracted from the medal roll regarding the 6th Royal Irish Rifles that records that 220 of the battalion’s original rank and file died as result of active service, while SDGW lists only 183 members of the battalion, both originals and replacements, who died before 1921 when it was published.
Small scale studies, such as Edward Spiers’ analysis of the 1st Battalion Black Watch, concluded that the pre-war British army was dependent on the peerage, gentry, military families, the clergy and the professions, with a small minority from business, commercial and industrial families, as the main sources of its officer corps.4 Furthermore the majority of candidates for commissions in the regular army had been educated at a public school. While comments have been made in passing in some divisional, brigade and battalion histories to the backgrounds of officers in New Army divisions, there has, until now, been no systematic analysis undertaken at a divisional level.5 In researching the 10th (Irish) Division, 97 per cent of the officers in the division’s twelve Irish infantry battalions were identified while 68 per cent of the line officers of the 13th (Western) Division were identified for comparative purposes.
While the methodology adopted for the creation of the officers’ data set is similar to that undertaken for the rank and file, greater emphasis was placed on the use of officers’ service records which were more readily available than those of the other ranks, many of which were destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. Nevertheless, it was impossible to examine all extant service records as those of officers who served after 1922 are still retained by the Ministry of Defence.
In the decade immediately prior to the Great War the majority of senior British officers, including Sir Ian Hamilton the future GOC of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, believed that the answer to the increased firepower of modern warfare was to achieve a moral ascendancy over the enemy. This ascendancy, a belief in one’s corporate and individual superiority and ability to win, was thought to be, at the time, brought about by a combination of morale and discipline. Where this study differs from previous divisional histories is in its detailed examination of these phenomena and whether they had an impact on unit performance. It also compares, to a greater depth than previously undertaken, the disciplinary record of two divisions, one English, the other Irish, and both raised at the beginning of the war, to determine if the nature of offences committed and the penalties incurred was consistent across both divisions. The study also examines whether the exercising of military discipline was consistent across theatres by comparing court-martial levels and sentencing in the Irish divisions on the Western Front with the 10th (Irish) Division.
Finally, the study also examines how the division adapted to technical and tactical change during the course of the war and how much developments on the Western Front contributed to the changes in warfare, as experienced by the 10th Division, in other theatres.
While this book’s main focus is on the original twelve Irish line battalions of the 10th (Irish) Division, this is not meant in any way to denigrate the achievements of other units of the division, in particular the 10th Hampshire Regiment, which served alongside them throughout the Gallipoli and Serbian campaigns until its transfer to the 27th Division in November 1916.