Thursday, 25 June 2015

Rebellion of Silken Thomas

The story of "Silken Thomas" has a moral and warning that resonates more today than ever it did in the 16th century. His rebellion began because of lies and rumour-mongering and his belief in it.

In this world of social media where a Facebook post or a tweet can go viral in minutes how many lives have been ruined by an angry word, vindictive comment, jealous outbreak or the malicious behaviour of a troll.  Mark Twain once said "The report of my death was an exaggeration" when he was confused in a newspaper report with his cousin – a sentiment that is shared by Axl Rose, Miley Cyrus, Betty White, Lil Wayne and Jackie Chan to name but a few of the celebrities killed of by social media rumour.

Next time you you see a social media post disparaging a friend, reporting the latest celebrity death or rant that Facebook is selling your computer, take a moment and think before hitting repost...

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- –)(– -- -- -- -- -- -- --

The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5.

Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare
GERALD, Lord Deputy, being, as related in our last number, summoned to give an account of his administration before the Council board of England, left his son to act in his stead; and before he sailed, took occasion to warn the young lord of the arduous nature of the charge committed to his care. The earl's speech to his son is preserved in Holingshed, and is full of good counsel and anxious forewarnings. It would have been well if the father's example had afforded as good a model for imitation, as his parting words. It is of little use for the mother crab to tell its daughter to walk straight, while she herself has all her life moved crooked. In the present instance the recommendation of the old Geraldine to the young lord to be ruled by the advice of his council was not long observed, for the new made Deputy had penetration enough to find that those who were placed as his counsellors, were but his secret foes, and that it was but their policy to lead him into error and extravagance, and then to rejoice over the consequences of his imprudence. The two Allens — the Archbishop, and the Master of the Rolls — were peculiarly his enemies, and their secret animosities soon broke out into open taunts and sarcasms. Allen, the Master of the Rolls, at a castle banquet, and at a moment, when the conversation turned upon the heraldic decorations, observed that the Lord Deputy's supporters, the marmousets or monkeys were in the habit of eating their tails. To which the Geraldine replied, "yes, master Allen, I may have been fed by my tail, but of this I shall take care, that my tail (meaning his council) shall never feed upon me!" On another occasion, the Archbishop pertly complained, in the hearing of Lord Thomas, that it was intolerable for the council to be kept waiting for a boy, which keenly offended the young deputy, and he took care to let the prelate know that he had heard him. In the midst of these jealousies, the enemies of the Geraldine, at the instigation, as is supposed, of the Allens, spread the report that the Earl of Kildare, on his arrival in London, had been committed to the tower, and beheaded. This was communicated to the son, who at once fell into the trap laid for him, and confederating with some Milesian lords then in Dublin, he summoned together all the men at arms he could collect, rode through the city in martial array, crossed the Liffey, and proceeded, boiling with anger, and supported by the shouts of his followers, to St. Mary's Abbey where the Privy Council was at that time sitting, attended by his noisy rabble. Lord Thomas rushed into the chamber, and casting the sword of state on the table, he addressed the council in a speech, part of which is as as follows:

"This sword of state is yours, not mine. I received it with an oath — I used it to your benefit — I should stain mine own honour if I turned the same to your annoyance. Now I have need of mine own sword, which I dare trust. As for the common sword, it flattereth me with a painted scabbard, but it hath indeed a pestilent edge, bathed in the Geraldine's blood. Therefore, save yourselves from us as from open enemies. I am none of Henry's Deputies — I am his foe. I have more mind to conquer than to govern — to meet him in the field, than to serve him in office."

The irritation of the incensed lord was not assuaged by the speech that archbishop Allen made to stay him from his purpose. The entreaties he made use of were felt to be hollow — the tears he was seen to shed were considered to be crocodile's, and the Irish bard was not checked in his ill manners, who, while the prelate was delivering his laboured harangue, sung out his Irish verses in commendation of the bravery, the prowess, and the martial bearing of the Geraldine, whom he dubbed with the title of SILKEN THOMAS, because his numerous horsemen's accoutrements were gorgeously embroidered with silk.

Here then we observe a curious and unheard of change in the character of an individual — at one moment Chief Governor of Ireland — at another, a rebel in arms, and for a time a vigorous aud successful one too. In vain the privy council sent orders to the city to have Lord Thomas arrested as he passed through the town: the citizens either could not or would not. On the contrary, so great was the success of the rebel, that the whole country was raised in his favour, the city supplies were cut off; it was placed in a state of siege; and the Archbishop and Baron Finglass obliged to shut themselves up in the castle, and stand to their defence.

Lord Thomas seems to have left no stone unturned to secure success to his cause. He sent an ambassador to the Pope; another to the King of Spain with a present of hawks and hobbies; and lost no time in invading the territory of the Butlers, who remained faithful to the king; and in overthrowing the Lord Ossory and his adherents; he then returned to Dublin and proffered security and protection to the city, provided they would allow him to besiege the castle; this the citizens, with the concurrence of the constable of the castle, consented to do, but at the same time, to shew their loyalty, and that their hearts were not with the Geraldine, they amply provisioned the fortress, which Lord Thomas resented by encouraging the Tooles and Byrnes to ravage Fingal, the source from whence the city drew its supplies; the castle, then, being about to be besieged, the Archbishop afraid of the success of his bitter foe, got on board of a small vessel at Dames gate, with the hope of escaping to England; but the ship was stranded at Clontarf, and the prelate retiring to Artane, was in the middle of the night dragged out of bed, and, barefooted and almost naked, brought before Lord Thomas, before whom he fell on his knees and besought him for the love of God to shew pity on a Christian and an Archbishop. It is universally supposed that Fitzgerald, moved with compassion, and intending only to have the prelate imprisoned, cried out to the people in Irish, ber owm a buddagh — "Take away the clown," but the attendants wilfully misconstruing their master's words, beat out the bishop's brains, and thus committed as monstrous an act of sacrilege as Irish History records. It was observed that Archbishop Allen, as the perpetrator of sacrilege, deservedly became its victim; and that he who was the ready tool of Henry's spoliation of the monastic establishments in England, met in due recompense his murderous fate; at all events his assassins left a revenge on themselves, for the two actual perpetrators shortly died of most loathsome diseases, and we shall soon see the fate that attended Silken Thomas himself, his father, and all his uncles.

Woodcut of Silken Thomas attack on Dublin Castle

The awful excommunication is still extant that was fulminated against these murderers; and the interdict was long held over the unhappy place where the murder was committed. In the meanwhile, Lord Thomas taking advantage of the citizens allowance to besiege the city, proceeded to plant his falcons (a species of cannon) against the castle, and it is likely he would have taken it, had not one of the city aldermen returned from London with a positive order from the king for the city to break faith with Fitzgerald; and to aid the garrison of the castle in driving him off from its walls. In revenge for this, Lord Thomas seized on the children of the chief citizens, who were at school in the country, and declared that he would place them in front of his men, exposed to the fire of the castle artillery. But the citizens, with Roman devotedness, refused any negociation with the insurgent, and prepared not only to defend the king's castle, but their own bulwarks against the common foe. Fitzgerald then attempted after cutting off the supply of water from the city, to besiege the caatle on the side of Ship-street; but was driven from his attempt by a wild fire invented by White, the constable of the fortress — which burned all his machines, and caused a fearful conflagration of the thatched and wooden houses that gave him sheltering. He then assaulted the city, by endeavouring to force the Newgate, which stood where Francis-street now joins Thomas-street. And having with his cannon pierced the gate, and killed some of the citizens inside, he was sanguine of an immediate surrender; but Richard Staunton, the gaoler of Newgate, (for this ancient bulwark was not only a city gate but a prison) seeing through a loophole, one of the gunners levelling his piece, not only fired, and shot him in the head, but he had the hardihood to rush out by the postern and actually strip the fallen foe of his arms and accoutrements. This inspirited the citizens so much that they instantly made a sally, and that with such success, that they forced Fitzgerald to raise the siege, leaving an hundred Gallowglasses slain, and their falcon in the hands of the citizens.

Still Lord Thomas was not put down, for with an activity worthy of a better cause, he hastened to fortify all the Geraldine castles, especially Maynooth; he defeated at Clontarf a considerable force that had landed from England; his pirate, as he was called, Captain Rouks, was active and successful in intercepting supplies; and trusting to his friends amongst the gentry and nobility of the pale, and to the strength of his castles, he proceeded to Ulster and Connaught to strengthen his party — and to urge into active co-operation O'Neil and O'Connor. While absent on this expedition, the new Lord Deputy, Sir William Skeffington, having proclaimed lord Thomas a traitor not only in Dublin, but at the high cross of Drogheda, proceeded to besiege the Geraldine's principal fortress at Maynooth, and planting his battery on the park hill at the north side of the fortress, he summoned it to surrender; to which summons, as mine author has it, "a scoffing and ludibrious answer was returned after the Irish manner;" and therefore the siege went on, but with little success, for what with the bravery and good appointment of the garrison, and the ignorance that then prevailed in the use of artillery — for though the Lord Deputy, from having been master of the ordnance, was nicknamed the gunner, it would appear that he could make no great use in this instance of his guns — therefore in all probability the fortress would have held out until its master returned to raise the siege, were it not for the perfidy of the governor, Christopher Parese, whose name has descended to posterity along with that of Luttrell and Moriarty,* because he broke one of the strongest ties that can bind an Irishman, for he was the foster-brother of Lord Thomas — this "white-livered traitor resolved to purchase his own security with his lord's ruin;" and therefore sent a letter to the Lord Deputy, signifying that he would betray the castle, on conditions; and here the devil betrayed the betrayer, for in making terms for his purse's-profit, he forgot to include his person's safety. The Lord Deputy readily accepted his offer, and accordingly, the garrison having gained some success in a sally, and being encouraged by the governor in a deep joyous carouse, they became dead drunk; and sunk in liquor and sleep, the ward of the tower was neglected — the traitorous signal given, and the English scaled the walls. Captain Holland, being the first to enter, plunged into a pipe of feathers, and stuck there like a bird of prey that was caught in a pigeon house. Sir William Brereton got in after him, and shouted out "St. George, St. George!" whereat one of the guards awakening, observed Captain Holland floundering in the feather barrel, and fired at him, but the flying about of the feathers marred his aim, and he fell himself by the hands of the assailants. Sir William Brereton soon advanced his standard on the top of the turret; the stronghold was won — the garrison put to the sword — all except two singing men who prostrating themselves before the Deputy, warbled a sweet sonnet called dulcis amica, and their melody saved their lives.

The spoil and plunder of the castle was immense, for being well appointed with all warlike munition, it was accounted the best furnished house belonging to any subject in the king's dominions.

Parese expecting some great reward, with impudent familiarity presented himself before the Deputy, who addressed him as follows: "Master Parese thou hast certainly saved our lord the king much charge, and many of his subjects' lives, but that I may better know to advise his highness how to reward thee, I would ascertain what the lord Thomas Fitzgerald hath done for thee?" Parese highly elevated at this discourse, recounted even to the most minute circumstance all the favours that the Geraldine, even from his youth up, had conferred on him. To which the Deputy replied, "and how Parese couldst thou find it in thy heart to betray the castle of so kind a lord? Here, Mr. Treasurer, pay down the money that he has covenanted for — and here also executioner, without delay as soon as the money is counted out, chop off his head!" "Oh, (quoth Parese) had I known this, your lordship should not have had the castle so easily." Whereupon one Mr. Boice, a secret friend of the Fitzgerald, a bystander, cried out, "Auntraugh," i.e. "too late," which occasioned a proverbial saying, long afterwards used in Ireland — "too late quoth Boice." In the mean while Fitzgerald had got together, by the assistance of O'Connor, a considerable army, but his troops finding the stronghold taken, shortly after deserted, and though with considerable activity, great personal bravery, and no small mental resources, he shewed himself a dangerous Guerrilla enemy, and held possession of one of the strongest counties for such a warfare in Ireland, yet eventually he was induced to surrender to the new Lord deputy, lord Grey, and rode in amicable guise side by side with him, into Dublin; some writers say that lord Grey, before the Geraldine surrendered, promised him the King's pardon. Others assert, that he gave himself up unconditionally — the result was, he was forwarded along with his uncles to England, through which he travelled as if under no accusation; but on their approach to Windsor, they were arrested as prisoners, and on February 3d, 1539, were all hanged at Tyburn. It is right to mention that Lord Thomas became Earl of Kildare before his execution — for his fathers hearing of his misfortunes, died in the Tower, prior to his son's surrender, of a broken heart.

Capture of the FitzGeralds – Illustration from Cassell's Illustrated History of England

Before we conclude this narrative of the Geraldine, we must give the reader some account of the last male branch of the family, Gerald, who at the period of the catastrophe of his brother, his uncles and his father, was a boy of ten years of age, and had been luckily committed to the care and tuition of a good and faithful ecclesiastic, Thomas Leverhouse, afterwards Bishop of Kildare — he, on the apprehension of the uncles, took the boy in his arms, though in the full fever of the small pox, and wrapping him up warm, had him conveyed in a cleeve or basket into the fastnesses of Ophaly, and on his recovery carried him off to the county of Cork, to the Lady Elinor Fitzgerald, the widow of Mc Carty Riagh. She soon afterwards marrying O'Donnel of Tyrconnell, made it an article of her marriage settlement, that the northern chieftain should protect the Geraldine, which he faithfully promised but they were not a year in Ulster until he entered into a treaty with the Lord Deputy, to deliver up the boy, whereupon she shipped him off privately from Donegal to France, and when he was safe off, and provided with all the money she could procure, she then upbraided O'Donnel with his treachery, and told him "that nothing but the preservation of her nephew could have prevailed on her to marry such a clownish curmudgeon." Then, as he had acted as a false traitor, she would stay with him no longer; and she kept her word, for he nevar saw her more.

The young Geraldine did not remain long in France, for Henry being at peace with Francis I., claimed his subject, so he had to fly into Flanders, and from thence to Italy, where he came under the protection of his kinsman Cardinal Pole; who it appears reared him well, and he did credit to his birth and education; for he did valiantly against the Turks in the service of the Knights of Malta, and became master of horse to the Duke of Tuscany. In this honorable service, as he was hunting in company with the Cardinal Farnese, he fell into a pit 60 feet deep, and had the good fortune, when within a few feet of the bottom, to catch some bushes, and gently descend on his horse, which lay dead at the bottom; here he stood for many hours up to his middle in water, and must have perished, had not his grif hound, missing his master, scented him to the pit, and then fell a howling, until the people attracted by the dog, came, and with a rope and basket drew him out. On the death of Henry VIII. he returned in disguise to England in the train of a foreign ambassador, and being at a ball, his finished manners, and beautiful person, captivated Mabel, the daughter of Sir Anthony Brown, Knight of the Garter, and marrying her, interest was made with the young monarch, who liberally restored him to his honours and estates.

* Irish tradition records the name of the former as having betrayed the pass at the siege of Limerick — of the latter as having betrayed the Earl of Desmond.

Text: The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5,

Sunday, 14 June 2015

On the Field of Waterloo


At the present moment [June 1915], when the nations of Europe are in the throes of a world-embracing war, it may be of interest to read the following impression of Waterloo, written by the Rev. Dr. Morris, of Philadelphia, about two years ago, on the occasion of a visit to that classic spot. It is also of some interest to Belfast Presbyterians from the fact of the recent announcement that May Street congregation propose to present a unanimous call to the talented author of the verses.

The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 by Denis Dighton

This, then, is Waterloo,
     Beneath this rising mound, this Lion's seat,
Was the last stand of that Old Guard which knew
     All that it meant to die, but did not know defeat.

Here in this hollow road
    The mailed Cuirassier and his bold steed
Fell to their death where scarlet rivers flowed.
    And cannons roared above, and bullets shrieked their creed.

The Iron Duke here stood;
    And yonder field where now waves ripening wheat—
'Twas there Napoleon turning saw the flood
    Of victory ebb in one long wave of dark defeat.

This very dust below
    Mayhap was once instinct with valorous life;
Asleep and peaceful now are friend and foe;
    Who knows which dust was French, which English, in that strife?

O God! And this is war!
    Ten thousand widows weep on England's shore.
Ten thousand more upon the banks of Loire,
    Whilst orphan'd children cry for those who come no more.

O Christ! teach us to love
    Our brothers near at hand and those afar;
Rule, Prince of Peace, from Thy high throne above.
    And end this reign of Hate, with all its murderous war.

The Witness, 11th June 2015

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Into Battle - Capt. Grenfell's Last Poem

In their edition of 4th June 1915, The Witness published a few lines of a poem with the following introduction –
"The Times" publishes a poem by Captain Julian Grenfell, whose death from wounds is announced. It is called "Into Battle," and we quote some of the verses:--
I was drawn to it, however, as the "pro-war" sentiment of the poem is unlike the more rueful and melancholy nature of most of the war poetry popular today. Into Battle has been described by Tim Kendall, President of The War Poets Association, as "second in popularity only to Brooke's The Soldier during and immediately after the War," but "is now either awkwardly ignored or explicitly condemned."  I thought that if I was going to highlight this extract it was worth putting on the complete poem.

The naked earth is warm with spring,
   And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
   And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is colour and warmth and light,
   And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
   And who dies fighting has increase.

The fighting man shall from the sun
   Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
   And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
   Great rest, and fullness after dearth.

All the bright company of Heaven
   Hold him in their high comradeship,
The Dog-Star, and the Sisters Seven,
   Orion's Belt and sworded hip.

The woodland trees that stand together,
   They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
   They guide to valley and ridge's end.

The kestrel hovering by day,
   And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
   As keen of ear, as swift of sight.

The blackbird sings to him, "Brother, brother,
   If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
   Brother, sing."

In dreary, doubtful, waiting hours,
   Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers;
   O patient eyes, courageous hearts!

And when the burning moment breaks,
   And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
   Him by the throat, and makes him blind,

Through joy and blindness he shall know,
   Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
   That it be not the Destined Will.

The thundering line of battle stands,
   And in the air death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
   And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

Image: Over The Top by Alfred Bastien

Thursday, 4 June 2015

May 1915 In the Trenches

[Some time since, in the trenches, amid the roar of the fearful fighting, the men
were amazed and cheered by hearing the outburst of the singing of the larks.]

Amid the thunder and the fire,
     Amid the roar and flash and flame,
Above it all, yea, nobly higher,
     The lark's fine anthem came.

Oh, how the ears of weary men
     Hailed gladly that sweet, cheering song,
So often heard by height and glen,
     Their own home-scenes among!

And home and loved ones drew so near,
     So well beloved, men, seemed again
Upon the British soil, to hear
     The glad, familiar strain!

There was the cottage where they played
     In childhood; there showed many a face
Beloved so well, in joy arrayed
     With the love-lighted grace!

Above the horrors of the war
     Prevails the carol of the bird;
Above the darkness shines the star,
     And the peace-song is heard.

Yes, ever in man's toil and strife,
     And in life's battles fiercely keen,
The still, small voice, with comfort rife,
     Comes all our ills between.

For many waters cannot drown
     The love of God, the peace of Heaven;
The music of Christ's love will crown
     Thunders that air have riven.

R. W. R. Rentoul

Poem: The Witness, 4th June 1915
Image: WW1 drawing by Bill Lewis.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Prayers of the Past

On Monday, 1st June 2015, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will open their 175th annual General Assembly.

100 years ago the General Assembly of 1915 opened under much different circumstances.

The euphoria of the call to war had long been tarnished by 10 months of fighting with names such as Mons, the Marne, Albert, Ypres, Givenchy and Neuve-Chapelle that still resound today. The Irish Division had been decimated at Gallipoli and the Ulster Division had just left for training and deployment. The slaughter of the Somme, Passchendale still unimagined.

At that opening meeting a century ago a special intercessory service was held and, from that service, the following prayers of intercession were sent to all ministers in the Church – some of which we could use today...


In the special intercessory service on the evening of the opening of the General Assembly a few minutes were devoted to silent prayer. During these the Moderator [Rev. Thomas Hamill, MA, DD] suggested at brief intervals supplications which might be offered. Subjects for intercession had been noted beforehand from which these were selected at the moment. They are printed below as they had been prepared, and are sent to ministers at the request of a number of those who were present.

Let us Unitedly ask of God:-


That He would be gracious towards our Empire and its many peoples, making this time of sore trial to be rich in blessing to them all.

That He would pour out of His goodness on our King and on the Queen and all the members of the Royal House.

That He would give wisdom and strength to our Government and to all in authority, that what they do may be in harmony with His holy will.

That He would work in our nation a deeper consciousness of sin, that in true penitence we may put away everything provoking His righteous judgment.

That He would deliver us from all pride and false ambition, all covetousness and self-indulgence, and from the curse of intemperance.

That He would enable us, however sorely provoked, to cherish the Spirit of Him Who on the Cross prayed for His murderers.

That He would deepen throughout our Country and Empire the spirit of loyalty and patriotism, making us willing for every sacrifice.


That He would grant to our Commanders guidance and insight, that with skill and success they may direct all operations on land and sea.

That He would inspire all our officers and men with love of country and fidelity to duty, that in all extremities they may be brave and strong.

That He would save our soldiers and sailors from every temptation, keeping them chivalrous, temperate, and pure.

That He would give them patience and fortitude amid hardship and suffering, and defend them in the hour of peril.

That He would be very near and very gracious to those appointed to die, granting them peace through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour.

That He would in mercy remember all prisoners of war, all maimed and made helpless for the work of life, all who cry to Him in distress and loneliness and fear.

That He would fit for helpful service all ministering to our soldiers and sailors – all nurses, chaplains, surgeons – that they may never fail in gentleness and sympathy and skill.


That He would fill us all with gratitude for those risking everything in our defence, and help us to remember them more constantly in prayer, and make us more worthy of their great sacrifice.

That He would aid and prosper the efforts of all caring for the suffering and the sorrowing in the Home Lands, all trying to relieve poverty and distress.

That He would sustain all at home troubled and anxious about loved ones in peril, and enable them to commit them to His Almighty keeping.

That He would bind up broken hearts, and grant the holy comforts of His grace to all fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, bereaved by the War, especially to all widows and orphans.

That He would draw closer together employers and employed so that setting aside mere personal and class interests they may work unitedly for our country’s good.

That He would pour more and more of the Spirit of Prayer and of Consecration on our people, that the work of God in our midst and mission work everywhere may be greatly promoted.


That He would so order it that when the judgments of the Lord are, through this War, upon the Earth the people may learn righteousness.

That in this land and in every land He would remember and visit with His grace the Churches of Christ afflicted by the War.

That He would abundantly bless the Overseas Dominions of our Empire, who are so wholeheartedly making our cause their own.

That He would through the War open a more effectual door for the Gospel among our fellow – subjects in India, many of whom are so loyally fighting in our armies.

That He would pity and save those on the Continent who have been brought low in misery and ruin by ruthless invaders.

That He would graciously awaken in our enemies the spirit of repentance, turning them from false ambitions and unjust aggression, and leading them to seek peace.

That He would speedily grant victory to us and our Allies, such victory as may advance throughout the world that Kingdom which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

BELFAST, June, 1915.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

From a Minesweeper in the Dardanelles

(Letter from Sub-Lieut. John Blundell, R.N., to his Uncle, the Rev. J. Blundell.)

May 30, 1915.

H.M.S. –––––––––––––––, at Sea.

DEAR UNCLE, — I was very pleased to get your letter this morning and to hear that Aunt Fanny is recovering from influenza, and that Cousin Dorothy got second prize in Divinity. It was most interesting to hear that Tabs had two black kittens this time; I rather thought that they would be grey, as the last lot were white. I quite follow your arguments about "Should clergymen fight?" As you say, the matter is of the greatest importance, and naturally The Times published your letter.

You tell me that you gather from the papers that the great silent Navy is having a quiet time now, and you ask me what we are doing. I wish I knew myself, but as we only go into port once a week to coal and are not allowed to communicate with the beach, I am rather ignorant of its doings. No, I am sorry to say I did not get the wild duck. It went, as all gifts do, into the Fleet Pool, and I got a pair of mittens (my seventh pair) instead. We are the Scouts, and come last on the list. There are five grades before us. The luckiest devils are the harbour defence flotillas, who get the fruit and fish. The next best off are the Coast Defence Patrols, who get the fowls and their so-called fresh eggs. The intermediate grades, such as Grand Fleet, seagoing flotillas, etc., get the general cargo, and we, who are far from home, get the frozen mutton, the imperishable corned beef, the indestructible tinned salmon, and the endurable woollen gear. The things that we might reasonably hope to find in our class, such as grouse and gorgonzola, never pass beyond the second grade.

As our boats are not sufficient to carry all hands, the latest scheme is to keep a large barrel of grease and thick oil on the upper deck, and preparatory to abandoning ship all men are supposed to strip and smear themselves over with this stuff as protection against cold water. They then, according to the latest Admiralty circular letter, are permitted to leave the ship. We had a false alarm the other night, hitting a floating mine, which didn't explode. A weird figure was seen hovering round the upper deck afterwards, and it took us all the middle watch to clear the oil and grease off the ship doctor.

My last skipper has been having an awfully good time in port since the Great Blockade began, as a German submarine kept on hovering about outside and they could not go to sea until it had been dealt with by the T.B.D.'s. It was known as the "Married Man's Friend," and they were quite sorry to hear of its decease. I saw Jack the other day. He is in one of the old battleships, officially termed "Fleet-Leader" (we call them "mine-crushers"), and he says his only diversion is the constant redrafting of his will so that each member of the family shall bear a fair burden of his debts.

Charlie Farrel is in the mine-sweeping brigade. He is now in his fourth trawler, and is known as "Football Charlie," as he's always being blown up. Rather bad luck on a fellow who is +2 at golf and who regards all other games (except fighting) as contemptible.

As you say in your letter, great issues are at stake, and it must be awfully exciting in England just now, but it's very dull at sea, so I will clear up this letter.

                              Your affectionate Nephew,


Text: Punch, 16th June 1915.
Image: Minesweepers by Charles Ernest Cundall.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The 'Genuine Relics' of the Volunteer Training Corps

Trumpington Volunteer Training Corps, November 1915. Percy Robinson collection.

Behind the roaring cannon, behind the flashing steel
The defenders of the Inner Line steady and constant kneel;
Some bent, or grey, some crippled, some three score years and ten.
Just praying, always praying for the Front Line fighting men.
These cannot lead a sortie, nor breast the ocean's foam,
But their fervent prayers as incense rise, from church and cottage home,
The poor man and the wealthy, all form the Inner Line
Learning how common sorrow forms a brotherhood Divine.
You can hear old voices quaver, you can see the slow tears fall,
Yet the Inner Line keeps steady; England and Honour call!
They pray, and who can measure such prayer's resistless might?
They trust the Lord of Battles; He will defend the right.
J. F. F.       

Volunteer movements raised for the defence of the country from potential invasion have been part of the history of these islands for generations. In Ireland the Volunteer movement goes back as far as 1715... to the Volunteers of the 1780s raised against French invasion... to the most well known of them all – the Home Guard of the Second World War made famous by Captain Mainwaring and the boys of Dad's Army.

But while the Home Guard is widely recognised, it is often forgotten that there was a similar service in the First World War.

Formed soon after the start of the war, usually by former army officers, volunteer units sprang up around the United Kingdom. They gave those who were too old or otherwise to join the regular army an outlet for their desire to serve and also to counter the perceived threat of German invasion. When first formed however, these units, which became known as the Volunteer Training Corps (VTC), were not formerly recognised.

A Central Committee of Volunteer Training Corps was set up and formally recognised in November 1914, but their remit only extended to Great Britain and an Irish Association was formed and recognised. The Central Committee drew up a set of rules for the Units and, as the Volunteers where allowed to wear a uniform but not khaki, agreed a uniform of Lovat green. All members also had to wear a red arm band bearing the letters "GR" for Georgius Rex and service was only open to those who had a genuine reason for not enlisting in the regular army.

In November 1915 the Australian newspaper, Geraldton Guardian, reported on a newspaper cutting received from home by one of their readers:
"The Irish Association of Volunteer Training Corps has been sanctioned by the Government for the purpose of encouraging and assisting those men who are not able to join the Regular Army for various reasons, to train themselves in military duties to assist the military when occasion requires – Corps and rifle clubs have already been started which have become affiliated to the Irish Association of Volunteer Training Corps, and agreed to accept their conditions, and are entitled to wear the uniform of the corps..."
As with the Home Guard in WW2, the VTC was often the butt of jokes such as the reference to the "GR" on their armbands standing for "George's Wrecks", "Grandpa's Regiment", "Genuine Relics" or "Government Rejects".

In 1915 all Volunteer Units which affiliated to the Central Committee were granted officially recognition however, the Committee was advised by the War Office that "any man below the age of forty years who joins a Volunteer Training Corps on or after the 1st June, 1915, will be required to sign an undertaking that he will enlist into the Army if specially called upon to do so." This was, allegedly, in response to a speech by Mr. Harold Tennant, Under-Secretary of State for War, that "in cases where good and sufficient reasons are not shown, a man ought not to be allowed to take the lesser obligation when he ought to fulfil the greater obligation of serving with the colours."

Grumblings soon emerged throughout the Volunteer movement in relation to the governments failure to make full use of the Volunteers' services.

In Ireland the secretary of the Association, Robert Anderson, wrote to Sir Matthew Nathan, G.C.M.G., Under Secretary for Ireland:
"I am directed by the Executive Committee of this Association to transmit herewith for the information of His Majesty's Government in Ireland copies of five resolutions which have been unanimously adopted by the undermentioned affiliated Volunteer Training Corps and forwarded to the Association, accompanied, in each case, by an urgent letter requesting that prompt action in the direction indicated should be taken. The Corps referred to are:–
(1) Belfast Volunteer Defence Corps. (2) City of Cork Volunteer Training Corps. (3) Irish Rugby Football Union Volunteer Corps. (4) Queen's University (Belfast) 'Veterans' Volunteer Corps. (5) Rathmines Volunteer Training Corps.
"While the resolutions of a similar character have not, so far, been received from the other affiliated Corps the Committee are aware that the accompanying resolutions reflect accurately and without exception the views of the entire body of affiliated Corps. As a matter of fact one Corps – The Howth & Sutton Volunteer Training Corps, quite an excellent and efficient unit raised shortly after the outbreak of the War – has actually disbanded in consequence of the failure to obtain any duty for its members. The Committee are apprehensive that other Corps, finding themselves in a similar position and being unable to hold their members together, may also disband."
Letter from Robert Anderson to Sir Matthew Nathan, 15 April 1916 (NAI)
In 1916 the VTC became part of the County Infantry Regiment system as Volunteer Battalions of their local regiment. The introduction of conscription in 1916 gave Military Service Tribunals the power to order men to join the VTC and the Volunteer Act 1916 meant that members had to remain in the Corps until the end of the war. It has been estimated that by February 1918, there were 285,000 Volunteers, 101,000 of whom had been directed to the Corps by the Tribunals.

During 1917, the VTC began to be issued with Enfield Rifles and battalions were tasked with roles such as line of communication defence and forming the garrison of major towns in case of a German invasion. They also undertook other tasks including guarding vulnerable points, handling munitions, assisting with harvesting, fire fighting and transport for wounded soldiers.

City of Cork VTC
Cap Badge
Cap Badge
Although the VTC were employed in a purely defensive auxiliary role they were engaged in actual combat on one occasion – the Easter Rising in Dublin in April 1916.

Four companies of the 1st (Dublin) Battalion, Associated Volunteer Training Corps composed of the Irish Rugby Union Football Corps, the St. Andrew's Corps, the Dublin Veterans Corps, the Glasnevin Corps, as well as City and Railway Corps and some motor-cyclists, were returning from field exercises when the news of the uprising reached them. The commanding officer, Major Harris, decided to march to Beggars Bush Barracks were they found it besieged. While they carried rifles they had no ammunition they did not even carry bayonets. They were fired on by a party of Irish Volunteers from a railway bridge. Part of the VTC force entered the barracks by the front gate, others made their way to the rear and scaled the wall. About 40 men at the rear of the column were pinned down by fire from surrounding houses and four were killed, including the cricketer, Francis Browning, who had been second-in-command. The VTC then assisted the small garrison of regular soldiers to hold the barracks for eight days. In total, five members of the battalion were killed and seven wounded.
"The V.T.C. in Dublin were the first to have the honour of shedding their blood in their country's cause. Those who were killed and wounded fell, it is true, under Sinn Fein and not under German bullets, but their military achievements ensured the progress of British arms just as much, even if indirectly, as though they had been fighting in France. We have read reports of the loyalty and bravery of the Nationalist Volunteers in Ireland, and we would say no word to detract from the honour properly due to any man who scorned to fight on the side of Germany and risked his life to show his true allegiance. But we want here only to tell the story of what was done by the 'G.R.' Volunteers when they were taken at a complete disadvantage and displayed a steadiness, enthusiasm, resource, and endurance which would have done credit to a corps of old soldiers." (Spectator, 20th May 1916)
I leave the final words to R. A. Anderson who wrote in the Spectator on 26th May 1916:
SIR, – The Executive Committee of the Irish Association of Volunteer Training Corps feel that they owe you a deep debt of gratitude for your generous appreciation of their services during the recent outbreak in Ireland, and they wish me to convey to you their best thanks for having given the public, through your columns, the facts relating to our Volunteer Training Corps movement in Ireland. It may be of interest to your readers to know that the Irish Corps now number seventy-seven officers and two thousand and ninety-seven men. They are located in Dublin and surrounding district, in Belfast, in Cork, and in Dundalk . . . They are governed by the same conditions and the same age restrictions as the English Association of Volunteer Training Corps. They are allowed to wear the uniform prescribed for Great Britain, and they are authorized to carry arms and to parade for drill purposes. They have been permitted to use military barracks as parade grounds and as headquarters, and they have further been lent a considerable number of drill-purpose rifles. The Irish Corps, like kindred bodies in Great Britain, wear the "G.R." brassard, issued by the War Office, and, like theirs, the Association is non-political in the same sense that the Army is non-political. Three hundred and forty-five members of the corps in Dublin were sworn in as special constables for service in the Dublin Metropolitan Police area on May 2nd and following days, and they remained on duty until May 11th. A large number of the outlying corps did similar duty either under the military or constabulary authorities, and rendered most valuable service.
The one thing that the corps affiliated to the Association lack is a military status, and, although this has been repeatedly asked for the Government has not found it possible to grant the request. There is a legal difficulty because the Volunteer Acts do not apply to Ireland, and there are, obviously, political difficulties. If these difficulties could be surmounted the strength of the corps might be quadrupled, and there would be ready for use in any emergency a trained and disciplined body of responsible citizens whose sole desire is to render such service as they can to their country and the State. The question of recognition raises other very serious problems. In the recent rebellion five of our members were killed and seven were wounded. In five cases dependants have been left unprovided for. Failing such recognition, it is generally believed that these corps, which proved their utility in exceptionally trying circumstances, will have to be disbanded, as the Executive Committee cannot see their way to advising men to expose themselves to grave peril and their families to the risk of ruin unless they enjoy the same degree of protection as is extended to military bodies. — I am, Sir, &c.,
R. A. ANDERSON, Hon. Secretary.
18 South Frederick Street, Dublin.
[If the military authorities do not accord to the families of the men killed and to the men wounded, all as truly on active service as the men now in the trenches, the treatment due to combatants, they and the nation will stand disgraced. The notion of some petty legal punctilio being allowed to prevent these true soldiers of the British people from obtaining their due is simply unendurable, and we, at any rate, do not mean to endure it without protest. We cannot, however, believe that any such official outrage is really contemplated. We believe, instead, that the words of praise given by the General and the presence of the Prime Minister at the inspection of the corps are proofs that the debt of gratitude owed by the nation to the Dublin V.T. Corps will be paid by the recognition of the killed and wounded men as soldiers and combatants. — Ed. Spectator.]

The Volunteer Training Corps was suspended in December 1918, and officially disbanded in January 1920.

Our Volunteer Corps.

By a Villager.

Our fine old warrior, Major Chrustie, of Tiffin Lodge, raised it, and is its commandant. He is patriotic in heart, soul and cellar, and to hear him denounce the Huns saves fuel in cold weather. He found an able secretary and recruiter in Green, our auctioneer, who, being an expert in pinching and appraising cattle, is just the man for gauging human physique. He soon roped in the early spring and late autumn of Larkfield manhood, a big platoon strong. He even got me, though my game leg won't go far sideways, and I can never hope to form fours properly (on which I understand victory in the field so much depends).

We have had a hard training, including a special sermon from our Vicar, and are already widely known as the Larkfield Dare-Devils.

Now our contemptible neighbour, Sloshley, has a Volunteer Corps too, but it is nothing to ours. We have tunics – they haven't; we march smartly – they flop about anyhow; we have been promoted to aim at the running perambulator drawn by a long rope – they are still in the haystack stage. I intrude this trivial subject of Sloshley only because we went out to fight them last Saturday afternoon. The Major of course led us, and a brave show we made when we "debauched" (I believe that is the correct military term) on to the road to Wild Heath, where the battle was to take place under the eye of a real Colonel of Territorials. His fife and bugle band kindly played us part of the way; after that, those of us who could whistle whistled, and to this stirring accompaniment we completed the four-mile journey to the Heath like so many Alpine Chasseurs, all of us having, by advice, soaped our socks and horaxed our toes for three days beforehand.

At the Heath we were met by the Colonel.

"This your infantry?" he inquired of our Major.

"Yes, Sir."

"Where are your machine guns?"

"On this piece of paper, Sir."

"Very good; post them in what you think is the most strategic position, and your troops too."

So the Major fastened the guns to a strategic gatepost with a safety-pin. Then he spread us out along an adjacent hedge and ditch, and ordered us to lie down and try to look as if we weren't there.

There we lay for what seemed a week, rifles firmly grasped, straining at the leash. No word was uttered, except when the nettles became intolerable, and then only one. All this time Sloshley never came near, the poltroons! At the long last, however, the Colonel galloped back and shook our Major heartily by the hand.

"I congratulate you on your victory," he said.

"What victory Sir?" exclaimed the puzzled Major, "we have never stirred or seen a soul."

"Oh, that's all right," was the reply, "the battle was won by the superior disposition of your machine-guns. Your opponents had placed theirs where they could only fire on themselves!"

So, exulting, we turned our faces and marched back towards Larkfield, home and beauty. Only one man fell out (into a passing cart), having used the wrong soap for his socks.

'Our Volunteer Corps', Punch, 14th July 1915

Poem: 'The Inner Line', Church of Ireland Gazette, 11th September 1914.