The Royal Irish Regiment, formerly the Royal Regiment of Ireland and the 18th Regiment of Foot, also known as the 'First and the Last'. The modern day Royal Irish Regiment formed in the 1990's has no true historical links to the original regiment other than its name.
The regiment was formed during the reign of Charles II on the 1 April 1684 by Sir Arthur Forbes the 1st Earl of Granard from the last of Cromwell’s surviving independent Irish garrison companies. Forbes’ Regiment was sent to England to fight against the Monmouth Rebellion at the Battle of Sedgemoor (6 July 1685) but did not take actually part and subsequently returned to Ireland. James II succeeded Charles II in April 1685 and purged his armies of all Protestants. When the same fate fell to Lord Granard’s regiment he resigned his commission in disgust and was subsequently succeeded by his former Major of Horse, Edward Brabazon 4th Earl of Meath who became the Colonel in Chief.
In 1688 the regiment was ordered to England to prepare to protect James from an invasion by William of Orange. However, there was no fighting as James fled the country leaving it to William to take the crown. Under William III (of Orange) the regiment was once again the subject of a purge, this time the protestant King purge the Catholics from his English and Irish armies. William placed the regiment, then known as Earl Meath’s Regiment, under the command of Friedrich Hermann the 1st Duke of Schomberg and under his tutelage became known as the best regiment in the English Army. In 1689 Schomberg was dispatched to deal with the Jacobite incursion in Ireland.
Williamite (Jacobite) War in Ireland 1689-91
Siege of Limerick - 9 August 1690 to the 3 October 1691
William III’s army defeated the Jacobite army at the River Boyne, which led James fleeing once again and although the ‘Meath’s’ were not prominent in the Battle of the Boyne but the regiment followed the retreating Jacobite army to Limerick and laid siege to the city from the 9 August 1690 to the 3 October 1691. The regiment’s Colonel in Chief, Earl Meath was killed during the siege.
Battle of Aughrim – 12 July 1691
William’s army commanded by Dutch General Godert de Ginkell confronted the French commander Marquis de St. Ruth at Ballinasloe in a line that stretched from Aughrim Castle to Urachree. Meath's regiment were in support of the first wave that had to negotiate a bog to reach the enemy. After some early confusion which left Meath’s regiment isolated the tide of battle slowly turned in favour of de Ginkell after heavy fighting. This battle marked the end of the Jacobite army in Ireland.
War of the League of Augsburg (The Grand Alliance) 1689-1697
The Grand Alliance was a European coalition consisting of Austria, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Dutch Republic, England, Holy Roman Empire, and the Palatinate of the Rhine, Portugal, Savoy, Saxony, Scotland, Spain and Sweden. The organisation, which was founded in 1686 as the League of Augsburg, was known as the Grand Alliance after England and Scotland joined the league in 1689. It was originally formed to prevent Louis XIV of France expanding his empire.
In December 1693 the regiment moved to Ostend to take part in William’s campaign against the Louis XIV of France. The commander of the regiment was Major General, The Vicount Boyne Frederick Hamilton who had been ousted from the regiment in 1689 by James II's protestant purge. The first real action involving Hamilton's regiment was at Namur, which was a heavily fortified town on the converging Sambre and Meuse rivers. Around the 28 June Hamilton’s regiment joined Prince de Vaudemont’s army and were tasked with keeping de Villeroi’s relief army away from the siege at Namur and was successful. Hamilton’s regiment returned to Namur on the 10 August to find the French had retreated to its citadel having lost the surrounding outer city and went into the trenches facing the citadel. The assault began on the 20 August 1695 with two huge explosions, which created breaches in the outer walls.. Hamilton’s regiment was one of four regiments under the command of Lord ‘Salamander’ Cutts and attacked the breach in the second wave; through sheer determination the regiment fought its way to the top of the breach over the bodies of the first wave and planted its colours at the summit. However, on reaching the top of the breach discovered a secondary breastwork, which the regiment failed to take and was forced to retreat but did manage to fight off a French counter attack. The assault on the second breach was also struggling to gain a foothold and reinforcements were requested and Lord Cutts sent Hamilton’s regiment to support an attack on the breach by the ‘Forlorn Hope’. The attack succeeded and the citadel was taken. It was a brilliant but hard won victory and it gained glory for the survivors of Hamilton's regiment. William III had watched the regiment's progress and conferred on them the title, ‘Royal Regiment of Ireland’ and the usage of the ‘Arms of Nassau’ with the motto: ‘VIRTUTIS NAURCENCIS PRAEMIUM’ on their regimental colours. The regiment also won its first regimental battle honour, ‘NAMUR’ and was granted permission to use the Harp of Ireland as its badge. The Royal Regiment of Ireland stayed in Flanders until peace was declared in 1697 and then sailed home in December.
War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1715
This was the result of the death of the heirless Charles II, the last Habsburg King of Spain. Without a natural successor Charles left his whole title to Philip, Duke of Anjou who was the second grandson of Louis XIV of France. With Louis in virtual control of the French and Spanish empires, he sent troops to the Spanish Netherlands to create a buffer zone between France and the Dutch Republic, then made an attempt to reform a new ‘French’ Grand Alliance with some his former enemies to assist with the expansion of the Franco-Spanish Empire.
1702 Sieges of Veloo, Ruremonde and Liege
In June 1701 the Royal Regiment of Ireland was sent to Holland with 11 other regiments under John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough. Marlborough allied with Prinz Eugene of Savoy War was formally declared in 1702 and the Regiment’s first action was the siege of Venloo in 1702, then came the 9 day siege of Ruremonde followed by the 18 day siege of Liege, which surrendered on 23 October 1702.
1704 The Battle of Blenheim
On 13 August 1704, the Royal Regiment of Ireland still under Major General Frederick Hamilton took part in a major battle at Blenheim (otherwise known as the Second Battle of Höchstädt). Marlborough and his German and Dutch allies crushed Louis XIV’s Franco-Bavarian army and secured the safety of Vienna. The regiment distinguished itself in battle once again and won its second battle honour, ‘BLENHEIM’.
Throughout 1705 the campaign against the Bourbon armies of King Louis XIV proved indecisive. The Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of Anglo-Dutch forces, assembled his army near Maarsticht before marching through Zoutleeuw; with both sides seeking battle they soon stumbled upon one other between the Mehaigne and Petite Gheete rivers close to the small village of Ramillies.
1705 The Battle of Ramillies
On 23 May 1706 the armies met near the village of Ramillies. The Franco-Spanish-Bavarian army were routed in less than 4 hours, which led to the swift collapse of de Villeroi’s Bourbon forces including the fall of Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Ostend and Menin (Courtai). For the part it played in the action at Ramillies, the Royal Regiment of Ireland gained the battle honour ‘RAMILLIES’
1706 The Siege of Menin (Courtai)
After the capitulation of Ostend, Marlborough marched to Courtrai in August 1706 intending to capture the French fortress of Menin. It was during the siege at Menin that men of the Royal Irish unexpectedly displayed indiscipline for the first time resulting in many casualties. The regiment was manning the siege trenches in front of the French fortified city when the Irishmen opened fire without orders revealing their positions, the French artillery duly opened fire with a terrific bombardment killing a large number of them. The Menin fortress later fell to Marlborough on the 22 August 1706.
The winter of 1706-7 was spent in Ghent and although there was no battle in 1707 the marching proved deadly for many of the soldiers. Heavy rain turned the roads into quagmires and chasing the French army meant that the ground was well trodden and extremely boggy.
1708 The Battle of Oudenarde
de Villeroi was replaced by the capable Duc de Vendome but his command was obstructed by his less tactically aware superior, the young Duke of Burgandy, grandson of Louis XIV. Burgandy’s interference led to the French army be forced towards the Anglo-Dutch fortified garrison town of Oudenarde on the river Scheldt with Marlborough following behind. Vendome wanted to set his line on the west bank of the stead of Scheldt but was countermand by Bergundy who wanted his army set further back. This allowed Marlborough to cross the river and the ensuing battle became a series of smaller engagements instead of a full scale frontal battle. The Royal Irish were one of the first into action on the 11 July 1708 at the village of Eyne, which held French troops cut off by Burgandy's re-siting of the army. The Frenchmen fought hard but realised they were outnumbered and tried to retreat. They were pursued into a marsh by Hanoverian cavalry led by the Electoral Prince George (later George II of Britain). The battle was a long hard struggle mostly around the villages of Diepenbeke and Groenewald. The regiment were bestowed another battle honour for ‘OUDENARDE’.
1708 The Siege of Lille
The siege of Lille was undertaken by Eugene of Savoy, Malborough's ally in the war. The allies were divided and Eugene surrounded Lille while Marlborough pursued the French elsewhere. Five British regiments were assigned to the siege and the Royal Irish was among them. On the 22 October the French defenders abandoned the town and retired to the citadel, the siege eventually came to an end on the 9 December 1708.
1709 Siege of Tournai
The French commander de Villars built the defensive Lines of La Bassee from Lys to Douai and Marlborough spent most of the year attacking Tournai. The Royal Irish were sent off with an expedition to reduce some smaller forts in the defensive line and were then marched back to Tournai where they were just in time to help combat a sortie sent out by the defenders. The siege lasted from July to early September 1709 and involved much tunnelling and mining in the underground defences of the citadel
1709 The Battle of Malplaquet
During of the siege of Tournai Marlborough took a large section of the allied army off to Mons to face de Villars who had set up an elaborate defensive position at Malplaquet. The area was heavily wooded and the line stretched from La Folie on the left to the Woods of Lainieres on the left. The Duke planned to attack the two flanks simultaneously in the hope that de Villars would take men away from the centre to reinforce one or other of the flanks; he was then going to send in concealed British regiments to seize the depleted trenches followed by his cavalry. The Dutch lost many men in the tough fight against the French right wing, but Eugene of Savoy made steady progress on the French left and it was here that the Royal Irish had their battle. They were one of the last regiments to join the allies at Malplaquet, having recently completed the siege of Tournai. The Royal Irish found themselves almost isolated in the Wood of Blaugies where they came face to face with the Jacobite Irish Brigade who were fighting on the side of Louis XIV. They exchanged musket fire in a disciplined fire fight with their opponents being the first to give way. The Franco-Irish Brigade retreated leaving their dead and wounded behind.
1710 Siege of Aire
In 1710 the towns of Douai, St Venaut, Bethune and Aire were captured. The Royal Irish were part of the siege of Aire which lasted 10 weeks and resulted in the French losing 7,000 men in killed and wounded. The Allies lost 1,400 and the Royal Irish Regiment fared worse than they had at the battle of Malplaquet.
1711 Siege of Bouchain
Marlborough cleverly lured de Villars away from Arleux and force marched his army to that city and by outwitting the French was able to penetrate the defensive line. The 13 day march was so arduous that many soldiers died. The Royal Irish were a hardy regiment and suffered less than most. In one 18 hour period they covered 40 miles. The siege itself resulted in the loss of 40 men of their men killed and wounded, and 4 officers wounded.
1715-17 Peacetime and Service in England
1711 – 1715 Ghent
After winning such great military victories over the course of 10 years the Duke of Marlborough was not given a hero's when he returned to London, instead he was rebuked and reviled. The Duke of Ormond was given command of the British army and controversially peace was made with the French independent of Britain’s other allies. With so much bad feeling being shown toward the British army moral was understandably low that a general mutiny ensued resulting in the greater part of the army being sent home to England. However, the Royal Regiment of Ireland and one other regiment remained in Ghent until 1715 before returning to England and Oxford. The regiment had earned a reputation for valour and determination, but it was not until 1882 that its battle honours for BLENHEIM, RAMILLIES, OUDENARDE, and MALPLAQUET were officially sanctioned.
1718-1742 Minorca & the 1727 Siege of Gibraltar
In 1718 the regiment was posted to the British controlled island of Minorca and remained there for 24 years. In February 1727 the Spanish laid siege to the garrison at Gibraltar and a force of British troops was sent from Minorca followed six weeks later by a detachment of Royal Irish on the 7 April. Bombardments were exchanged but Spanish were completely out-gunned but the superior numbers of British cannon, dispelling any thoughts of the Spanish making an incursion into Gibraltar.
1740-48 War of the Austrian Succession
The regiment returned to England in 1742 and after a period in the West Country were posted to Fareham to guard Spanish prisoners of war. In 1745 the regiment was sent to Ostend to reinforce the Duke of Cumberland garrison in the aftermath of the French victory at the Battle of Fontenoy of 11May 1745. The garrison was manned by Austrian, Dutch and British troops. British morale was low and the men were contemptuous of their Dutch and Austrian allies because of a total lack of flank support that they should have provided while the British attacked in the middle. The fortifications at Ostend were also in terrible state due to the lack of care by the Dutch and after a few days the garrison surrendered. The terms of surrender were worded badly and a safe passage guaranteed by the French was not fulfilled and it was only through careful movement by night in silence that the British troops managed to reach Mons, but once there they were confined for 3 miserable weeks until it was safe enough for a march to Brussels.
1745 The Jacobite Rebellion
The Irish returned to Britain during November 1745 and embarked for Scotland along with the 12th 16th and 24th Regiments. However, a false report of prowling French ships forced the fleet to shelter in the Humber causing the force to arrive too late for the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746) where the Duke of Cumberland defeated Charles Stewart thus ending the Jacobite rebellion. The regiment remained in Scotland for two years building roads, after which they were sent to Ireland.
In 1751, while in Ireland the Royal Regiment of Ireland was added to the ‘Army List’ and re-named, the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot. In 1755 its strength per company was increased from 29 men to 78 as it prepared for war against the French in North America.
1775 – 1783 War of American Independence
1775 Lexington and Concord
The 18th Regiment was sent to North America and Philadelphia in 1767. In 1774 it was posted to Boston but by then was under strength due to lack of recruits from Britain. On the night of the 19 April a force of 1,800 men was sent to Concord to destroy a militia arsenal belonging to the colonialists. The force was made up of grenadier and light companies from the regiments in Boston including detachments from the 18th Regiment acting as flank companies. The force reached Concord after a brief firefight at Lexington but were surrounded by the Americans and forced back to Lexington where it found support in another British force. The Colonial army then forced a retreat of the entire surviving British armies back to Boston.
1775 Bunker Hill
The British were short of rations in Boston and supply ships sent from Britain were either swept off course or captured by the Americans. Disease and starvation reduced their numbers and morale was very low so that by June when the colonists seized Bunker Hill. The British force sent to assault the hill included the 5th, 38th, 43rd, 52nd Regiments of Foot and the Marines as well as 20 flank companies from other regiments. The 18th made a contribution with what was left of its light and grenadier companies. A counter-attack was made on the 17 July and was devastated by a controlled volley from the colonists who had waited until the last minute before firing. A second attempt also failed, but a third resulted in a rout of the colonists who had run out of ammunition and were dealt with by bayonet. However, the battle was won at a high price.
1776 Siege of Boston
George Washington was in command of the American forces and managed to capture ships, artillery and ammunition with which to bombard the besieged the British in Boston. By March 1776 the position of the British had become untenable and General Howe arranged for the evacuation of the army. They were allowed safe passage to Halifax in Nova Scotia in return for not burning Boston to the ground. In the summer of 1776, the 18th Regiment, which was greatly reduced in numbers, was allowed to return to England to recruit and come up back up to an effective strength.
From 1776 to 1783 the regiment was stationed in England and the Channel Islands. On 24 March 1783 men of the 104th (Bengal Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot who were quartered in Fort George on Geurnsey mutinied. The men who were largely from the province of Munster in Ireland felt that as it was a time of peace, they should be allowed to come and go as they pleased and that their duties should be lessened. Although their demands were somewhat granted by the Governor, they fired their muskets into the officer’s quarters and also at the Governor when he attempted parlay with them to end the mutiny after they made defensive positions of their barracks. The Royal Irish were called out to put down the mutiny with force and were supported by the militia, grenadiers and canon. The barracks in which the men of the 104th were hold up piled their arms when they realised they were surrounded. As a token of islander’s gratitude, the Governor gave the officers of the Royal Irish 100 Guineas to share amongst the men.
1793-1802 French Revolutionary Wars
1793 Siege of Toulon
The 18th Regiment left Guernsey in 1783 for a posting in Gibraltar where they remained until 1793. When the French Revolutionary War broke out a detachment of the 18th Regiment joined other reinforcements sent to Toulon to protect the city and its pro-royalist citizens after Admiral Lord Hood took charge of the city on 27 August 1793 and evicted its pro-revolutionaries.
On the 30 November with the city under siege, Lt. General Charles O’Hara led a bold attack on one of Bonaparte’s batteries on the overlooking Aresnes heights. The large multi-national force led by O'Hara included a detachment from the 18th Regiment successfully took the battery but instead of remaining on the heights in possession of the guns, they pursued the enemy too far and came under attack themselves. Many were killed but most were taken prisoner including O’Hara. (O’Hara had the ignominy of surrendering twice in his career, first to George Washington and latterly to Napoleon Bonaparte).
On the 16 December another battle took place at Fort Mulgrave, an outpost of the city. The 18th Regiment were responsible for the defence of south side but had to defend the whole fort after their Spanish allies were driven off the north side. Captain Connelly distinguished himself with a small party of men against a determined assault. Another fight took place at Mount Faron, which was under-manned because the approach was regarded as too difficult for an attacking force. It was in this battle that Napoleon suffered a bayonet wound in the leg inflicted by a sergeant of the 18th Regiment.
On the 17 and 18 December, Toulon and its outposts were evacuated and left for the revolutionaries, but not before all arsenals and French were ships destroyed by men of the 18th Regiment under the command of Ensign W Iremonger, which proved to be a dangerous undertaking as they were fired on constantly.
The British sailed east to Corsica and threatened the northeast town of Bastia, which soon surrendered. The army disembarked and the 18th Regiment were left to garrison the town. When the fleet moved around to the west of the island they found that Calvi was a more difficult nut to crack. The regiment was summoned from Bastia and on 6 July 1794 were ordered to make a feigned attack on Monteciesco while Sir John Moore's light infantry and grenadiers set up a battery to bombard Fort Mozzello. The assault of the Mozzello was made on the 18 July and the 18th Regiment under Lt-Col Wemyss attacked and captured the Fountain Battery. They entrenched themselves in great haste so that when the French counter-bombardment rained down on them they did not suffer too badly. The siege went on until the 10 August 1794 when the French capitulated and were allowed to return home unmolested. The regiment’s losses were small but it lost a far greater number in the following nine months to malaria and greatly reducing its strength.
Corsica temporarily became a British protectorate and duly appointed a Viceroy and Maj. General Henry Tucker Montresor of the 18th Regiment was appointed the Commandant of Calvi.
By October 1796 the Corsicans had increasingly given their support to Napoleon Bonaparte and wanted the British off their island. A decision was made to evacuate Corsica and on the 14 October Nelson's fleet arrived at Bastia to take the British troops to Elba some 40 miles to the east and arrived on the 18 October. The French on the mainland in nearby Tuscany were reported to be at Livorno and so to secure a foothold on the Italian mainland adjacent to the island of Elba, a force consisting of two companies of de Roll's Swiss Emigrés, some artillery and the Royal Irish Regiment under (the now) Lt. Col H. T. Montresor was sent on the 7 November to capture the Tuscan coastal town of Piombino. However, the countryside around Piombino was flooded so a detachment of Royal Irish marched north through the floodwater and captured the town of Campiglia instead surprising the French guards there.
The combined Franco-Spanish Mediterranean fleet greatly outnumbered the Royal Navy in that region so understandably Britain decided to withdraw its armies from the Mediterranean, but when Nelson’s fleet arrived at the end of December 1796 to evacuate the army, the commander of the army on Elba, General John de Burgh, refused because he had receive no orders. In spite Nelson’s efforts to convince him to embark for Gibraltar, de Burgh decided to keep the army, along with the Royal Irish, on Elba. Nelson’s flotilla sailed and two months later, on the 4 February 1797, joined Admiral Sir John Jervis’ fleet at Cape St Vincent where they defeated the Spanish Navy. It was not until the end of April that the Royal Navy returned to transport the army from Elba to Gibraltar.
The regiment was garrisoned in Gibraltar for two years as part of Sir Ralph Abercromby's army. It made an aborted foray to Genoa and had to change course to Minorca where the regiment trained for a few weeks instead. They returned to Gibraltar in Sep 1800 and were reinforced by 3,800 men.
1801 Egypt Campaign
1801 Aboukir Bay
Troops and the Royal Navy gathered in Malta before departing on the 20 December 1800 for the Bay of Marmorice on the coast of Caramania (southwest Turkey). The Sultan had given permission for the British to use it as a base where the regiments spent 6 weeks training intensively for the landing and subsequent campaign in Egypt. On the 22 February 1801 the force set sail and anchored off Aboukir Bay eight days later. The 18th Regiment, still commanded by Lt-Col Montresor were in the 2nd Brigade commanded by Major-General Cradock and included the 8th, 13th and 90th Regiments of Foot. Most of the army were taken ashore by sailors in flat bottom boats where they sustained serious casualties from the French defenders. The 18th Regiment was fortunate to avoid the heavy fighting and were transported in small Greek vessels with a shallow draught.
1801 Battle of Mandara
Abercromby's men proceeded towards Alexandria but were faced with the French army at a line of sand hills near Mandara (Mandora) on the 13 March where the 90th Regiment suffered very heavy losses. The 18th’s only action occurred shortly after a French cavalry unit rode along the front of the line without being fired upon because their green uniforms caused them to be mistaken for the friendly Hompesch's Cavalry, they were actually a Regiment of French Dragoons. When the unit turned and tried to ride through a gap in the line they were fired on by the light company of the 18th and then by the whole regiment. This stopped them and proved to be an important point in the battle.
The Battle of Alexandria was the most important of the campaign and is remembered mostly as the day that Sir Ralph Abercromby was mortally wounded. The French infantry was making little headway in the battle so the French commander Menou sent forward his massed cavalry. However, they came to grief in the British camp where they were fired on by the men guarding the baggage. Their retreat caused the whole of the French army to retire with the loss of 2,000 men. The French casualties would have been worse but for the Royal Artillery's lack of ammunition. The 18th on the left flank of Cradock's Brigade were not seriously engaged.
1801 End of the Campaign
After the fall of Rosetta, the 18th were sent to reinforce the British garrison there. The CO Lt-Col Montresor was chosen as governor of the town. After Abercromby succumbed to his wounds he was replaced by General John Hely-Hutchinson, who later became Colonel of the 18th Regiment. There was little fighting after the 21 March and the French surrendered Cairo on the 27 June and then Alexandria on the 31 August. The Sultan issued a gold medal to all the officers in the army, but the British government did not follow suit until 1847 when the few officers still living received the General Service Medal with the EGYPT bar. All the regiments that took part were awarded the battle honour EGYPT and allowed to have the Sphinx as their hat badge or as collar badges.
1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars
2nd Battalion (1803-1814)
When war with Revolutionary France was resumed the army was built up once again and the 18th Regiment raised a second battalion in Ireland in 1803. The battalion served in Scotland until 1804 and then both battalions were sent to Barham Down in England. After a few months the 2nd Battalion moved to Jersey and then in 1807 it was shipped to Curacoa, on the northern coast of Venezuela in the West Indies. The battalion was depleted over time with sickness, death and transfer to the 1st Battalion in Jamaica. The 2nd Battalion 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot was disbanded in 1814.
After service in Egypt the 18th Foot returned home to Ireland via Malta and Elba arriving in Cork during August 1802 to face reductions in its establishment following the Peace of Amiens Treaty. In 1804, the 1st and 2nd Battalions met at Barham Down, England. In January 1805 the 1st Battalion embarked for the West Indies and Jamaica, arriving in April. The 2nd Battalion also sailed for the West Indies in 1807. The 1st Battalion was stationed in Jamaica for 12 years and saw little action apart from an expedition to San Domingo in 1809 when they had an arduous march to some French forts which surrendered without a fight. The regiment was commanded by Major R Campbell at this time and although they did not sustain any casualties in battle they certainly suffered in other ways. They experienced earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, fire, and mutiny amongst the locally raised units. But worst of all was the sickness. During their 12 years in the region the two battalions lost 52 officers and 1,777 men
The regiment was reduced again to just one battalion and with great relief sailed home, landing at Portsmouth in March 1817. It moved to Ireland shortly after but in 1821, the regiment was shipped to Malta where it remained for 3 years, and then to the Ionian Isles for 8 years. In March 1832 the 18th Regiment returned to England and stayed in the north where they were on riot-control duty. The regiment helped to quell riots in Sheffield, Bolton and Preston. On the 8 May 1834 they had a new experience… railway travel, when it was conveyed by train to Liverpool before travelling across the Irish Sea to Dublin. On the 20 December 1834, the Adjutant-General reported that their 'excellent state of discipline is highly creditable to Colonel Burrell'.
1839-1842 First China War (1st Opium War)
In 1839 the Chinese stopped all opium traffic and ordered all foreign traders to surrender their opium. The British Government sent a naval expeditionary force to China with the warships HMS Rattlesnake, HMS Nemesis, HMS Welleley, HMS Conway and HMS Blenheim.
Chusan, 6 July 1840
The 18th Regiment was sent to Ceylon in April and May 1837, remaining there for nearly three years until 1840 when it was ordered to China accompanied by the 26th, 49th, 37th Regiments and the Madras Native Infantry. Their ships sailed past Canton and anchored at the Chusan (Zhoushan) islands in the mouth of the Hangzhou Wan. The 18th, commanded by Lt-Col Henry Adams, attacked the fort at Chusan and captured it without much loss. However, with unhealthy living conditions and poor quality food many men later lost their lives through illness.
Canton, 25 May 1841
A treaty was signed with the Chinese that ceded Hong Kong to the British providing Chusan was relinquished. The army were only too pleased to do so, but the British government sacked the plenipotentiary Charles Elliot for this decision and replaced him with Sir Hugh Gough. The Chinese reneged on the treaty and a British force of 2,800 directed its efforts against Canton. The heights behind the city were strategically important so Gough took the bulk of the army on a circuitous route to reach them. The 18th, greatly reduced in numbers due to death by illness, along with the 49th, the 37th Madras NI, Marines and Naval Brigade went up the river by boat to the village of Tingpoo. On the 25 May a small detachment of the 18th were left with the boats while the remainder headed for the forts on the heights. The detachment of men commanded by Lt. Cockburn was attacked by a large force of Chinese but the men of the 18th put up a strong defence and their brave action was highly commended.
Artillery was brought forward for the attack on the forts and bombardments were exchanged with the defenders. The 18th was ordered to drive the enemy from the hills near the east forts and so advanced in extended order and was successful although was threatened by fire from entrench Chinese. When the 49th Regiment was sent to clear a nearby village, the 18th along with a company of Marines dashed along a dry causeway across a paddy field. The assault was led by Captain John Grattan who later commanded the regiment. His bravery was rewarded by Gough who appointed him the bearer of dispatches. They captured the camp, destroyed the enemy arsenal and burned their tents.
Amoy, 26 August 1841
The regiment suffered badly from malaria but its numbers were made up with a draft from Britain so that by the 1 Aug 1841 the strength was up to 747 men. Amoy was a seaport 300 miles up the coast from Hong Kong and Lord Gough took the 18th, 49th and the Marines to attack and capture the fortified coastal town that was greatly protected by Chinese artillery. The journey was made in boats towed by the steamship Nemesis. The grenadier and light companies were led by Major Tomlinson in an attack on the flanking wall which was easily stormed on the 26 August. The remainder of the regiment made a frontal attack and scaled the walls by climbing over each other’s backs. The Chinese scattered in all directions and the town was taken with relative ease leaving behind 500 guns.
Ting hai, 1 October 1841 (Second capture of Chusan)
Lt-Col Adams led 300 of the 18th along with the newly arrived 55th Foot in the attack on the fortified city of Ting Hai, the capital of the Chusan islands, and captured it with relative ease.
Chinhai, 10 October 1841
Chinhai was protected by an un-fordable canal protected by strong Chinese defences with artillery and rockets. The only means of crossing the canal was by a bridge with a narrow archway over it. The men could only get through one at a time and then only if they took off their greatcoats. The regiment had a large drum that went with it into battle and was found to be too large to go through the archway, so the drummer, named McGiff, and his drum were put on a boat and ordered to cross the canal by himself. The Chinese thought the drum was a special weapon and concentrated all of their fire towards McGiff and his boat. Luckily, he managed to make it to the other side with his slightly damaged drum and began to beat it. Whilst the Chinese were distracted by McGiff, every man in the regiment had crossed over the bridge and were busily putting the defenders to flight; Chinhai was soon taken.
Ningpo 13 October 1841
The 18th marched unopposed into Ningpo on the 13 October and remain there for a few months. The soldiers were surprised at the attitude of the local people. The Chinese soldiers mostly ran away and had to be pursued and killed to deter any future resistance. The populace stood by and watched the fighting without getting involved. The regimental history says: 'The attitude of most of the Chinese throughout the campaign, indeed, was one of complete apathy; they looked upon the war as an annoying but unavoidable interruption to their daily life, and finding that their conquerors treated them well, acquiesced in their presence, and made as much money out of them as possible.'
The objective at Chapoo was to destroy the Chinese arsenal before the fleet sailed up the Yangtse. 300 Tartars took refuge in a stone building and laid a trap for the British. Being very dark inside and difficult to penetrate any soldiers entering would be shot before they became accustomed to the darkness. Men of the 18th suspected a trap and decided to wait for the artillery; however, men of the 49th were not so careful and stormed the building, which resulted in a number deaths including the 49th Commanding Officer. The building was eventually torched and most of the Tartars were burned to death because of their cotton padded uniforms.
Chinkiang Fu, 21 July 1842
On the 19 June the 18th Regiment marched inland for 14 miles to Shanghai and destroyed the arsenal there. The regiment returned to Woosung where Maj. Jerimiah Cowper took command and they were reunited with the company that had been left at Chinhai. The British were also reinforced by the addition of the 98th Foot and some more Madras NI battalions. The decision was made to proceed up-river to Nankin but on the way they had to attack the fortified town at Chinkiang Fu some 50 miles from Nankin.
On the 21 July they were in Brigadier Bastley's brigade which was ordered to attack the West wall. The regimental history states that the 18th Foot, ‘were the last to go ashore at 7am at which time it was already so hot that the regiment were ordered to remove their greatcoats and stocks from around their necks’. It was the first time that they had fought without greatcoats, which seems extraordinary as this was their third summer in China. The other regiments were suffering from heat exhaustion so the 18th were ordered to place themselves near the town gate and deal with the Chinese gunners, which they did from the cover of nearby houses. After engineers blew the gate, the 18th rushed through a dense cloud of smoke, stumbling over debris as they advanced into a courtyard to face a second inner gate ahead of them. As they began to batter the second gate it was opened from the inside by men of the 55th regiment who had stormed another wall and penetrated further into the town. The 18th moved off to the left along a narrow rampart and came upon some Tartars exiting a building ahead, which the CO believed to be just coolies and of no consequence. However, the Tartars set themselves up behind a low wall and fired on the leading men killing Captain Collinson of the Light Company, and other men. The Light Company then dashed down a ramp and routed the enemy except one large Tartar who stood his ground with a sword in each hand. His bravery impressed the officers who signalled him to run away but instead he hurled himself at them and was shot dead.
The regiment had a number of skirmishes with Tartars in the town and there was some with hand to hand fighting but were dealt with ease. Any houses occupied by the enemy were set on fire and shot dead if they tried to escape. The Tartar General killed himself in a burning house rather than be captured.
The population of Chinkiang Fu had been led to believe that the British were barbarians who would torture them, so as panic set in, many committed suicide. The British loses were very light.
Cholera on Kalangsu
The siege of Nankin never happened because the Chinese sued for peace and signed a new treaty in August 1842. After the trials and tribulations of the last three years the regiment was looking forward to leaving China for good, but worse was to come. Four companies were stationed at the unhealthy Chushan whilst the rest of the regiment were ordered to the island of Kalangsu. On reaching Kalangsu they found the detachment that had been posted to the island some months before were in 'a deplorable condition'. All the officers were sick and the men hardly fit for duty. After a short time the rest of the regiment fell ill with cholera and fever. Many died and the coffin-makers could not work fast enough. To compound the problem a draft of 300 fresh troops came out from England with some wives and children, they too soon succumbed to the sickness. The deaths on the island of Kalangsu amounted to 136 before the regiment was shipped off, first to Chushan and then Hong Kong.
Canton 2 April 1847
The citizens of Canton started to attack British merchants in early 1847, so the Plenipotentiary Sir John Davis took action to prevent further trouble. He was a believer in 'A word and a blow; a blow first.' So the Royal Irish (509 men) under the command of Lt-Col Cowper and the 42nd Madras Native Infantry (399 men) were landed near the Chinese artillery batteries to put them out of action. They spiked the guns but left enough in good order to be able to use them against other fortifications. Soldiers occupied the factories and used them as a base to storm the town. However, the Chinese gave up and promised to keep the peace. There were no casualties in this the last action of the 18th's final tour of duty in China. The regiment left China on 20 November 1847. As usual, the number of men who lost their lives through sickness and wounds far exceeded those that died in battle. The 18th Regiment received the thanks of Parliament and were awarded the battle honour CHINA with the emblem of the Dragon. A CB (Companion to the Most Honourable Military Order of Bath) was awarded to Colonel George Burrell, Lt-Col H W Adams, to Lt-Col J Cowper and to Captain John Grattan.
1848 India (2nd Anglo-Sikh War)
The Regiment arrived at Fort William on 10 January 1848 under the command of Major W F Dillon. On 29 March 1949 Britain annexed the troublesome Punjab and 18th Regiment was sent to Umballa, but they were not required to fight. At the end of the year they were posted to Meerut where a further 220 recruits were added to their strength. The Viceroy, Lord Dalhousie made a trip to Lahore in the recently conquered province and was escorted by the flank companies of the 18th Regiment. This detail was commanded by Captain C A Edwards and they acted as his personal bodyguard night and day. They also guarded their prize prisoner Maharaja Duleep Singh on the trip back to Meerut.
1852 The Second Burma War
The Second Anglo-Burma War was started under questionable circumstances by Commodore George Lambert in support of the Honourable East India Company.
Martaban, 5th April 1852
The regiment did not return to England as planned but instead was sent to Burma to uphold British rule against the King of Burma. The regiment travelled in two parties, the first commanded by Lt-Col Reignolds left Calcutta on the 19 January 1852 and the second followed a few weeks later under Lt-Col C J Coote. The first section arrived at the mouth of the Irrawaddy early in April and by the 5 April arrived at the Port of and city Martaban, which was surrounded by series of hills and protected by a high wooded stockade. The 18th were sent to storm the wall and the first man over was Captain Gillespie. Once over the wall the Burmese took up positions on top of the hills. The main focus of attack was a pagoda that was defended by a large force, which charged down the hill when the 18th were sighted forming up in preparation of an assault. The men of the 18th charged at the on-coming mass with fixed bayonets but as they neared each other the Burmese turned and fled.
Rangoon, 12th-14th April 1852
After seizing and securing the city Moulmein on the opposite side of the river from Martaban, a small garrison was left behind to police the area while General Godwin took the remainder of the force down-river to meet the second section of the 18th Regiment and the Madras Contingent. On the 10 April the entire force sailed the river up to Rangoon to bombard suitable landing places for an advance party to secure a beach-head. The bombardment started on the 11 April and by early on the 12 April the 18th, 51st, and the 40th Bengal Native Infantry proceeded towards the White House stockade. The 51st were sent to storm the stockade with some men of the 18th followed by the rest of the Irishmen carrying scaling ladders. During the day the most dangerous aspect of the battle was heat and sunstroke, which proved fatal in some cases. Godwin was forced to bivouac the men for 40 hours near water to await the arrival of four 8-inch howitzers. Sporadic Burmese fire from a great pagoda at the encampment led to an attack by the 18th in which Colour Sergeant Kelly was killed and several other ranks wounded.
The Great Pagoda, 14th April
At 5am on the 14 April the attack on the Great Shwedagon Pagoda commenced with the 18th leading, having to cut paths through the jungle for the big guns. As they approached the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Burmese artillery on the huge terraces opened fire. The 18th were an easy target for Burmese as it stormed the east wall gate up difficult ground. The gate suddenly burst opened and a storming party led by Lt-Col Coote advanced steadily over a half-mile wide valley and up the terraces. The defenders were un-nerved by the disciplined ranks of red-coated soldiers and fled the Pagoda. The grenadier company cut off the fleeing Burmese in the flank and Rangoon was captured.
Prome, Aug-Oct 1852
The 18th Regiment spent the summer months in Rangoon where cholera took hold leaving many sick and dead. During August 1852 the regiment was sent 200 miles up the Irrawaddy River to Prome in a column commanded by Sir John Cheape. On the 9 October Prome was entered unopposed and garrisoned. While at Prome, a man of the 18th on outpost guard duty was ambushed and beheaded, and head was sent the Burmese King as a trophy.
The 18th Regiment were left to garrison Prome while an expeditionary force was sent to capture Pegu. In November, the regiment found itself under siege and had to make a sortie to a new siege stockade built by their attackers. Later that month two companies were sent out to the districts of Klangheim and Padaung under Major Edwards and cornered the enemy at Tomah and waited until March 1853 for reinforcements.
Expedition to Tonghoo Pass, March 1853
A shipment of 148 elephants was expected in early 1853 and a party was sent to the Tonghoo Pass over the Yo Ma mountain range to meet them. Major Edwards was again in charge and took with him 100 men each from the 18th and 80th Regiments along with 200 Sikhs. There were 3,000 coolies to carry provisions but these absconded when they reached the steep mountain slopes. The men were only able to carry minimal supplies and hunger became a problem especially for the Sikhs who would not eat meat from the cattle they had with them. The Party spent 19 days hacking through jungle and sleeping in wet clothes until they reached the rendezvous. Although there was plenty of rice there, they had to wait for the elephants. When they eventually arrived a few days later there was a good supply of food for them and they returned to Padaung in a quarter of the time that it took them on the journey out.
Expedition against Myat Toon, March 1853
While Edwards was bringing back the elephants, another expedition was organised to catch a bandit chief called Myat Toon who was disrupting the lines of communication. He was believed to be at Donobyu some 50 miles north of Rangoon. The force was commanded by Sir John Cheape and included four companies of the 18th Regiment as well as 4 companies of the 51st, the 80th, 200 Sikhs, the 67th Bengal NI and artillery etc. Major Wigston of the 18th commanded the right wing of the column. They moored some 30 miles from Donobyu but discovered that Toon had fled from there. On the 7 March they made an attempt to track him through the jungle though there was still much sickness amongst the men, and were subsequently forced to halt for 4 days to wait for more supplies to be brought up. By the 17 March there were traces of Toon's movement and they came across a stockade which was attacked but as usual, the enemy fled. One man was captured by an officer and they extracted valuable information from him
Attack on Myat Toon's Stronghold, 19th March 1853
On the 19 March column came across a fortified village where Myat Toon was based with 4,000 men. It was well defended with a stockade and moat. A frontal attack was made and a long exchange of fire ensued. On the right of the enemy's position a track across the water was found but it was blocked with felled trees. The 80th Regiment tried to cross but had to withdraw. The 18th then made the attempt with the Sikhs. At first the task proved too difficult until the artillery brought up a gun. Private Connors of the 18th distinguished himself by helping bring the gun forward despite a broken arm. The path was cleared with the gun and the covering fire it provided made for a successful attack into the village to rout the bandits. Although Myat Toon escaped with his life, he was deprived of his weapons and resources.
End of the Burma Campaign, November 1853
The casualties in this battle for the whole force were extremely light with most of the killed being from the 18th Regiment. However, the deaths from Cholera were far more than those lost in the fighting. The 18th left China for India and Calcutta during November 1853 and then shipped to England a few weeks later arriving after a six month voyage in June 1854.
For all of the fighting that the 18th took part in, the men were awarded a clasp for PEGU on their India General Service medal… although they did not actually take part in that particular action.
1854-1856 Crimean War
The prospect of a European war against Russia was rousing the nation, but during the forty years since the Napoleonic Wars the British army had been allowed to run itself down and was greatly reduced in strength. With the advent of a new war men were very much needed to swell the ranks and the 18th was no different with an establishment of just 400 officers and men. Although keen to be sent to the Crimea and being one of the most experienced regiments on the Army List they were withheld until its ranks were increased to 848 officers and men by gaining drafts from the 51st, 94th and 150th regiments. Commanded by Colonel Thomas Reinolds they sailed from Portsmouth on the 8 December 1854 on the SS Magdalene arriving at Balaclava on the 30 December.
When the 18th Regiment disembarked in the harbour at Balaclava the men were appalled to see the state of their compatriots already in the Crimea. The winter had brought great suffering to the poorly equipped soldiers and sailors, and it was soon apparent that the 18th Regiment were the only fit regiment. The 18th was initially put to work at the harbour but was then assigned to Sir William Eyre's Brigade in the 3rd Division and marched to the uplands south of Sevastopol to join the siege of the fortified Black Sea port that had started in the September of 1854 with bombardments from Royal Navy ships. The experience of the regiment’s ‘old soldiers’ was such that after marching through a bitterly cold blizzard and waiting for tenting to arrive the men took the precaution of digging down deep into the floor of their bell tents and banking the earth around the outside of the tents to block out the biting wind; experience such as that helped the regiment from being as badly affected as others by frostbite and disease. In March 1855, the command of the regiment passed from Colonel Reinolds, who was promoted, to Lt-Col Clement Edwards. The men served in the redoubts surrounding Sevastopol protected from the cold and wind by wearing greatcoats and fur caps. Their old percussion Brown Bess muskets were also replaced by the superior French .702” Calibre Minié Rifles giving a considerably longer range with greater accuracy.
1855 The Great Redan
The Russian defences at Sevastopol were in the form of two fortresses, the Malakoff and the Great Redan, which were the focus of attack after the capture of the Quarries. The French concentrated on the Malakoff and the British, the Great Redan. On the 17 June 1855 a heavy bombardment from sea and land reduced the fortifications considerably. However, after dark when the guns fell silent, the Russians hastily repaired the damage throughout the night. It was intended that another two hour bombardment would take place at dawn but the French commander Pelissier changed the order so that the infantry attack went ahead without any further cannonade. General Eyre's brigade, consisting of the 9th, 18th, 28th, 38th and 44th regiments (1,000 men in all) made their way through the ravine to Dockyard Creek.
During the night march to the Redan, Colonel Edwards of the 18th had formed up his column contrary to long established traditions and when he realised that Royal Irish were not where he thought they should have been he caused the whole brigade to be halted while he reorganised the column again. When the brigade reached an area where it could form up General Eyre addressed the Royal Irish and finished by stressing the need for absolute silence to maximise the element of surprise. Unfortunately, one man miss-heard and called out for three cheers for the General thus leading the entire regiment in a noisy cheer; Eyre turned dejectedly to Colonel Edwards and bid him to send his regiment into action straight away.
The 18th occupied a cemetery and then advance over stone walls to an area of houses and gardens near the Redan. On reaching one of the stone walls one of the regiment’s officers, Lieutenant Meurant, was shot dead by a Russian marksman.
The British assault on the Great Redan was unsuccessful but Eyre's brigade and the 18th did better than most; it managed to reach the ruined houses under the walls of the Great Redan and although covered by fire from the cemetery were unable to make any further progress. There were many acts of bravery during this battle including Sergeant John Grant who delivered messages although badly wounded and refusing to retire for treatment. Captain Dillon (later CO from 1873-78) rescued 7 men under fire, and Captain Thomas Esmonde was awarded a VC for his bravery. The Russians fired incendiary bombs at the houses and Eyre’s attack was called off at 3pm. However, the Royal Irish did not fall back until it was dark at around 9pm so that all of the regiment’s wounded could be extracted.
1855/56 Destruction of the Docks
The regiment did not take part in any more major actions. There was another attack on the Great Redan and Malakoff in September 1855 after a three day continuous bombardment. The French assault on the Malakoff was successful and was the beginning of the end of the war. The Royal Irish were sent to the docks to carry out the heavy work of demolishing the Russian Naval Dockyard. This job was performed during the winter of 1855/6 and was not without danger as the Russians were still able to use their artillery. The regiment was supervised by the Royal Engineers and one of its officers, Charles Gordon, later to achieved fame at Khartoum, wrote of the Royal Irish in 1882:
".... they were a favourite regiment with the RE for work, both in the trenches and in the destruction of the docks, from the energy and pluck of the officers and men, and it was then that I formed my opinion of Irishmen being of a different nature than other Britishers inasmuch as they required a certain management and consideration, which if given them would enable you, so to speak, to hold their lives in your hand. The officers liked the men and the men liked the officers; they were a jovial lot altogether, but they would do anything if you spoke and treated them as if you liked them, which I certainly did. You know what great hardships they went through in the docks in working at the shafts which, 30 ft deep, were full of water if left un-pumped out for 12 hours. Poor devils! Wet, bedraggled, in their low ammunition boots, I used to feel much for them, for the Generals used to be down on them because they were troublesome, which they were when people did not know how to manage them."
End of the Crimean War
With the outlook looking poor at Sevastopol Russia sued for peace, which was eagerly agreed to and a peace treaty (The Treaty of Paris) was signed on the 30 March 1856. The 18th Regiment remained in the Crimea until the 20 June 1856 when it embarked for England, disembarking at Portsmouth on the 18 July 1856. The regiment were granted the battle honour ‘SEBASTOPOL’. Within the same month of July, the regiment were back in Ireland and stationed in Dublin.
1858-1859 Indian Mutiny
The unrest in India started during April 1857 with unrest and arson attacks at Agra, Allahabad and Ambala. On the 10 May 1857, Sepoys of the Honourable East India Company mutinied at Meerut and their actions soon escalated in other areas. There was widespread massacre of European civilians, including women and children, which led to ‘tit-for-tat’ retaliations against the Sepoys and their civilian supporters by the British army. At the time the regiment was still in Ireland but had received orders to prepare for service abroad. The regiment sent a forward contingent of three companies on the 24 September 1857 followed by the rest of the regiment two months later. The CO was still Lt. Col. Clement Edwards. By February 1858 the regiment had assembled in Bombay and were despatched to Poona to prevent the likelihood the outbreak of rebellion there. In April the regiment was split into detachments and dispersed throughout various districts, employed in a variety of tasks but did not engage in any fighting. The second in command Lt. Col. Frederick Call led a group detailed to pursue the Rohilla Freebooters (robbers) in the Jaulna district without success.
In 1865, the 1st Battalion was ordered home from India. It had served abroad for the best part of 28 years, apart from 6 months in England in 1854. In February 1866 two ships brought home 29 officers, 450 other ranks, 44 women and 72 children. 381 men were voluntarily discharged and remained behind in India. The ships arrived home in June and after a stay in England for 2 years the battalion move to Ireland. In 1871, the 1st Battalion was alerted that it would soon serve abroad again but it was not until the 18 January 1872 that the battalion sailed to Malta and remained there for 3 years. In 1875 the 1st Battalion sailed to India and reached Bareilly in December. In 1878 the battalion was at Ferozepore when the Second Afghan War broke out and was sent Peshawar to join the Reserve Division but did not become involved in the fighting, but was posted to the Khyber Pass at Lundi Kotal in May 1880 and later one company was posted to Ali Musjid. Their duties included escorting convoys and picketing the neighbouring hills. In the summer of that year they fell afoul of Cholera and lost 60 men including the Quartermaster Richard Barrett who had served 26 years with the regiment. They returned to India in March 1881 and remained there until 1884 when they were sent to Egypt.
Second Battalion Re-raised, 25th Mar 1858
The 18th Regiment followed many others by raising a 2nd battalion on the 25 March 1858. It had been forty-four years since it last had a 2nd battalion and the nucleus of latest was formed from one hundred men of the 1st battalion, which did not sail to India, plus a large contingent of men from the Dublin Militia. The task of organising the new battalion during its first few weeks fell to Maj. Armstrong, followed by Lt-Col Archibald Campbell who commanded the battalion for a year before it was handed to Alfred Chapman. The 2nd Battalion were moved to England where it remained for 2 years before being transferred to the Channel Islands where its establishment was divided between Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney
Maori War 1863-66
Journey to New Zealand
In 1863 the 2nd Battalion received order to relieve the New Zealand garrison and so the three detachments from Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney re-formed at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. On the 2nd April 1863 the HQ and 8 companies under Lt-Col Chapman departed Portsmouth on the sailing ship Elizabeth Anne Bright, which was chartered by the British Government as she had a reputation for fast sailing. The ship reached Auckland, North Island NZ on the 4 July after just 85 days sailing. On arrival Lt. Col. Chapman was told that hostilities has broken out with the Kingitanga Movement in the Waikato region to the south of Auckland.
Two service companies under Brevet Col G J Carey followed 3 weeks later on the 5 August aboard the clipper Norwood after 122 days at sea. A depot (reserve) company was also established at Buttevant, North Co Cork.
A Maori ruler of the Waikato tribe had set up a base at Ngaruawahia in the lowland region south of Auckland from where attacks were made against settlers. The battalion was camped at Otahuhu and issued with blue serge 'jumpers' and blankets with waterproof groundsheets which were rolled and slung over the left shoulder. The men were armed with .577 calibre P53 Enfield rifles which had a sighted range of 1,200 yards but could only fire two rounds a minute. As engagements with the Maori’s mostly took place in dense forest, the Enfield’s long range was not such an advantage. The 2/Royal Irish battalion was one of seven other Regiments of Foot under the command of General Duncan Cameron. The other regiments were; 12th, 14th, 40th, 57th, 65th and the 70th. They were later joined by the 43rd, 50th and 68th Regiments of Foot.
The 2nd Battalion’s first engagement took place on the 12 July at the Kokeroa Heights above the Maugatawhari creek where it dislodged a band of natives. The Maoris were clever fighters who had honed their skills on inter-tribal warfare and built strong defensive positions with palisades and ditches but often failed to provide sufficient water for themselves, which generally led them to surrender or escape within a day or two of siege. Another group of insurgents were holding a place called Meri-Meri and 500 men of the 2/18th were sent along the river to capture Meri-Meri. The soldiers ran short of food and this became known to the Maoris so they sent canoes laden with fruit, potatoes and milk-goats to the soldiers as they regarded it dishonourable to fight a hungry enemy.
In July 1863 Captain James Tarrant Ring and Ensign Bicknall along with 2 sergeants and 47 men were escorting a convoy to Drury when it was attacked by 140 Maoris. They were surrounded and had to retire to a farmstead after losing 4 men killed and 10 wounded. Later, on the 22 July news reached Capt. Ring at his post in Keri-Keri of two settlers having been murdered. He set off with 3 officers and 100 men in the direction of Pukekewereke from where shots were heard. A section of local volunteer fighters were under attack but when the men of the 2/18th appeared the Maoris rushed away downhill into the forest. In the skirmish that followed, one of Ring's men was killed and his rifle and bayonet were snatched, the Maoris tried to seize the body to get at the ammunition but were kept at a distance by rifle fire. There was a stalemate until the 65th Regiment arrived forcing the natives to retreat with a number of them being captured. Capt. Ring was an officer who inspired great loyalty in his men and got the best out of them, which led him to being promoted to Brevet-Major for his leadership.
In November several companies of 2/18th were sent off under the command of Brevet-Colonel Carey to establish a control area between the Waikato and the Thames rivers by building forts and redoubts to provide defensive positions for small garrisons. Improvements were also made by creating tracks through the forest. Their main tasks were protecting settlers, escorting convoys and fighting skirmishes with roving Maoris. An engagement at Rangiriri on the 20 November resulted in 132 British casualties but only a few men of the 2/18th were involved. By the 9 December the Maori base at Ngaruawahia was taken and occupied.
The battalion HQ was moved to Drury in September and 2 companies were left at the Queen's Redoubt under Captain Noblett. A detachment of 62 men under Ensign Dawson were half a mile from Pokeno when they encountered a group of Maoris which were chased down a gully. Other Maoris appeared and Dawson's men became trapped until rescued by men of the 40th regiment and an 18th RIR escort party commanded Captain Noblett.
1863 Massacre at Otau
There was an unsuccessful Maori attack at the Galloway Redoubt on the Wairoa road on the 15 September, which was garrisoned by men of the 2/18th commanded by Major Lyons. Two days later the redoubt was reinforced by more men of the 2/18th under Lt. Russell. Maj. Lyons decided to go on the offensive and approached the village of Otau at night. The village lay on a river on the opposite bank and while Maj. Lyons took his group along the bank to find a suitable crossing, Lt. Russell's men fired on the huts. It was known that these huts housed not only insurgents but local people too and none were expecting a night attack. The village was found to be full of dead bodies by the time Maj. Lyons' men reached the huts.
1863 Battalion Strength
At the end of the year the strength of the battalion was 10 companies made up of 2 field officers, 9 captains 20 subalterns 5 staff 47 sergeants 22 drummers 763 rank and file fit for duty, with 24 sick. By January 1864, a chain of redoubts had been established by Brevet-Col Carey between the Waikato river and the Thames estuary. The men were kept busy manning the redoubts and guarding the line of communication from Queen's Redoubt to Ngaruawahia. Duties included making improvements to the defences, sinking wells, building roads and bridges and destroying villages that housed troublesome natives.
Battle of Orakau, 31st Mar 1864
At the end of January 1864, General Cameron had advanced south and although the Maoris had been driven inland towards the mountains the General could get no further than Te Rore because there were no roads and the rivers were too difficult to cross. A new road had to be cut to the coast at Raglan to receive supplies. A post was established at Pukerima and manned by men of the 2/18th who had been at Ngaruawahia. However, news came that there was a large force of the enemy on the Waikato plain, which had built a defensive 'Pah' (trench) at Orakau. Brevet Col. Carey organised a three column recce force and the 2/18th contributed 140 men commanded by Brevet-Major Ring. The 140 men of the 2/18th joined the 40th Regiment and were ordered to attack the enemy Pah. When Ring returned from the briefing on the 30th March he looked shaken and distraught. He maintained that he had felt a premonition of his own death. He had received many such orders in the past but this one had brought on an overwhelming sense of doom. At dawn on the 31st March they attacked the stockade in skirmishing order but were driven back by rifle fire from the Maori defenders. The second attack was just as unsuccessful but this time Brevet-Major Ring was killed. The third attempt was successful and the Pah was surrounded by British soldiers, which prevented Maoris reinforcements entering the stockade. On the 1 April the British force was strengthened by the arrival of Capt. Inman with another 110 men from the 2nd battalion as well as 70 men from the 70th Regiment who had marched all night. They had brought grenades and a 6-pounder Armstrong gun to break the deadlock. A breach was made, but General Cameron arrived on the scene and called a halt to the attack. He wanted the Maoris to send out the women and children to save them from further harm. It was known that the Maoris had no water, only raw potatoes to eat and little ammunition so surrender terms were offered. But the proud natives sent back a message saying that they would 'fight for ever and ever' and that the women and children would stay with them in the Pah. There was a stand-off during which the soldiers listened as the Maoris sang songs to keep up their spirits who were encouraged by shouts from their compatriots outside the battle area. At last the gate opened and the soldiers watched in astonishment as Chief Rewi led his people out of the stockade and through the British lines, a pursuit ensued and many natives were either captured or killed.
1865 Operations against the Hau-Hau
Nukumaru, 24th Jan 1865
During the remainder of 1864, the Irishmen were first at Ngaruawahia and then Otahuhu camp. In 1865 seven companies (500 men) of the battalion were sent to Wanganui at the far western end of the North Island to come under the command of Col. Waddy and the 50th Regiment of Foot while Lt-Col Chapman remained at Otahuhu with the rest of the battalion. Waddy’s column was one of a two column force that was to patrol towards each other along the coast from Taranaki (New Plymouth) to Wanganui with the objective to search and destroy a fanatical religious sect called the ‘Hau-Hau’. Col. Waddy's column started out on the 24 January and moved up the coast to the Waitotara River where it made camp at Nukumaru village close to a nearby lake. Pickets were sent out to give early warning of an attack on the camp. Capt. Hugh Shaw of the 18th Foot was ordered to set-up his picket a half a mile from the camp and were ambushed as they approached a thicket near the village. The picket retreated to the nearest cover which was a ditch. One Shaw’s men fell wounded out in the open, which led Shaw to ask for volunteers to help him bring the man in. Shaw accompanied by three volunteers made a dash into the open under fire towards the wounded man, the wounded man was lifted up onto Shaw's back and was brought safety; all the men returned without being hit. The shooting brought Major Rocke and 100 men from the camp forcing the rebels to flee. Shaw was awarded the Victoria Cross and Privates John Brandon, James Kearnes and George Clampit were awarded silver medals for bravery.
Captain Noblett's Skirmish, 25th Jan 1865
The day after Shaw's act of valour his picket was relieved by a larger force commanded by Captain Noblett, his force consisted of 75 men of the 18th and 25 of the 50th Regiment. They concealed themselves by the banks of a stream lined with flax. Another detachment of the 50th was under cover on the opposite bank. Around 600 Maoris appeared and forced the soldiers to retreat but reinforcements from the camp encouraged Noblett to go on the offensive and was able to disperse the enemy.
Around the time that the 2/18th Regiment were at Patea, it was discovered that the Hau-Hau were at Wereoa, but General Cameron decided not to attack. On the 20 July Cameron resigned in protest at proposed cuts in his forces. Major-General Trevor Chute was summoned from Australia to replace him but during the intervening period Governor Sir George Grey took it upon himself to organise the attack on the fortified Pah at Wereroa with 100 men of the 2/18th and 100 of the 14th Regiment plus 470 colonists and native;, a circuitous route was taken through difficult country to approach the Pah from an unexpected direction. The Maoris were taken by surprise and ran away leaving the Pah to the Governor’s men. The successful attack left 50 Maoris dead with no casualties on the British and colonials.
General Chute's March, Jan 1866
For the remainder of 1865 the 2nd Battalion HQ was at Platea, under the command of Major Rocke who took over from Lt-Col Chapman when he was invalided home in June. Maj-Gen Chute arrived and planned his expedition to finish off the Hau-Haus. Major Rocke provided 100 men and together with 139 from the 14th Regiment, 100 from the 50th Regiment, 45 Forest Rangers and 300 Native Auxiliaries, stormed a strongly fortified Pah on top of a hill on the 7 January 1866 at Putahi. The attack was made a 4 hour march around the base of the hill through dense jungle. They charged the walls and broke them down with their axes. The 200 Maoris inside the Pah put up very little resistance and were easily dispersed. The 2/18th suffered no casualties although 2 men were killed and 10 wounded from the other units. For some reason the men of the 18th Regiment were recalled back to Patea while the rest of the column continued to capture and destroy more Maori settlements.
Papoia, 18th Oct 1866
The British Army left New Zealand after the campaign against the Hau-Haus leaving the 2/18th Regiment to garrison the islands. They were posted around the Patea-Wanganui district, which was still being harassed by insurgents. The harassments reached such a level by October that the Governor called upon Major Rocke to confront the rebels in force. The battalion turned out 300 men to fight alongside 300 militia to confront the Maoris. On the night of the 17/18 October the force approach the fortified village of Papoia through difficult narrow paths. A storming party was given the dangerous task of charging the barricade that had been set up across a steep track and as it approached was fired on causing a momentary pause in the advance. However, Lt. F. J. S. Pringle decided that boldness was called for and led his men in a charge at the barricade, which they smashed through and sent the Maoris guards in retreat. The rest of Rocke's force poured through the opening and scattered the Hau-Hau insurgents. This was followed up with a three week march through extremely dense forest and attacking other fortified villages forcing the rebels into submission. In Governor Sir George Grey’s report, Lt. Pringle was singled out for high praise and Privates Acton and Hennigan were each awarded the D.C.M.
End of the 3rd Maori War
Sections of 2/18th Regiment were posted at a number of locations between Patea and Wanganui until March 1867 when the battalion was re-formed at Wanganui and remained as one unit there until the end of the year. The battalion was the then split again with the HQ and six companies moving to Auckland, two companies were posted to Napier and two to Taganaki. In January 1868 the battalion was introduced to its new commanding officer George Augustus Elliot who replaced Alfred Chapman in 1866, but had only just arrived from England. At this time the strength of the battalion was 861 and during 1868 battalion’s Enfield rifles were replaced by the Snider breech-loading rifle. In 1869 the Royal Irish receive orders to relieve the 50th Regiment in Australia and departed in January 1870. On arrival in Australia the regiment was split with the HQ and four companies remaining in Sidney and two companies each to Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart in Tasmania. Just over half of the regiment were discharged from service and remained in Australasia as private citizens prior to the regiment’s return to England during August 1870, departing in two groups from Sidney and Melbourne.
Revolt of Arabi Pasha 1882
Kassasin, 9th Sep 1882
The 2nd Battalion had been in England and Ireland since its return from Australia and on 8th August 1882 sailed from Plymouth to Ismailia although the published destination was Alexandria. This subterfuge was Sir Garnet Wolseley's elaborate plan to deceive Arabi Pasha, the leader of the military revolt in Egypt. The 2/18th (771 men) were in the brigade of Major-General G Graham along with a battalion of Royal Marine Light Infantry, the 2nd Yorks and Lancs and the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers. After four days of unloading stores and equipment the troops endured a difficult march to Kassasin arriving on the 8 September on the following day were attack by the Egyptians. The battle of Kassasin is well known for the cavalry action but the Royal Irish Regiment were ordered at first to escort the artillery and then to advance in line towards the enemy infantry. The British guns caused the Egyptians to pull back and they retreated to their defensive position at Tel-el-Kebir. The battalion suffered only two men wounded as well as Captain Edwardes who was attached to them from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Tel-el-Kebir, 13th Sep 1882
In order to surprise the Egyptians in their redoubt at Tel-el-Kebir, Sir Garnet Wolseley organised a night march of 4 miles through the desert in total darkness and absolute silence. With the element of surprise achieved, the attack began just before dawn with the 2/18th charging a section of the enemy trench. C and D Companies led the charge with B and E Companies supporting, the remainder of the battalion were held in reserve. The Irishmen swept forward and stormed the trenches with their bayonets and although they took fire from the flanks still occupied by the Egyptians, the defenders were driven back and then fled leaving their trenches to the attackers. The pursuit continued beyond the redoubt but the men were called back re-form in case there was a counter-attack.
There were some remarkable feats of bravery by the men of the 2/18th. Corporal Devine and Private Milligan dashed forward ahead of their advancing comrades deep into the Egyptian front line and into the massed ranks of the enemy causing confusion but were finally overwhelmed and killed. Another account tells of a soldier who lay with 8 bullet wounds but insisted ‘Don't mind me, look after others worse hurt.’ He later died from his wounds when he reached Plymouth.
The Egyptians had suffered many more casualties than the British/Indian force; 2000 killed and thousands more wounded. The British lost 9 officers and 48 other ranks killed, 27 officers and 355 wounded, with 30 missing. The 2/18th lost just one officer and 7 men killed with 2 officers and 14 other ranks wounded. Arabi Pasha surrendered in Cairo where most of the expeditionary force was sent to ensure that the city was not destroyed. The 2/18th however, remained in Tel-el-Kebir for a week and then took the train to Cairo and into barracks that were so filthy that soldiers writing of the experience years later said that they could not get the smell out of their nostrils. On the 29 September there was a huge explosion in the railway yard when a waggon full of unexploded shells, powder and ammunition caught fire. The battalion was sent to the scene at 6.30pm and remained there until 1am controlling traffic and dealing with looters. On the 11 October the battalion was sent to Alexandria and remained there until February 1883 when, on the
1 February, the men were presented with their Egypt medals, which had a clasp for TEL-EL-KEBIR. A few days later the 2/18th were shipped to Malta for 3 months before returning to England, landing at Plymouth on the 30 May 1883. The 2nd Battalion received battle honours EGYPT 1882 and TEL-EL-KEBIR
The Nile Expedition 1884-85
The 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment was garrisoned at Meerut in India when it was ordered to Egypt in August 1884. It was to take part in one of the most arduous organised expeditions ever undertaken by the British Army and in doing so joined an 11,000 strong force sent up the Nile to rescue General Charles Gordon who was being besieged in Khartoum by the Mahdi’s Sudanese army.
Journey up the Nile
On the 12 November 1884 the 1st Battalion RIR was under the command of Lt. Col. Hugh Shaw VC and when it started its journey to relieve Khartoum. The 746 officers and men first travelled 229 miles by train to Asyut where they boarded barges, which were then towed a further 318 miles to Aswan at the foot of the 1st Cataract. On the 24 November they boarded sailing vessels at Shellal and sailed 210 miles to the start of the 2nd Cataract at Wadi Halfa in the Sudan where the battalion camped for two weeks. Whilst at Wadi Halfa the 1st Battalion reconnoitred 33 miles of the cataract to Gemai and discovered the availability of whale boats there. On the 16 December, B and E Companies under Lt-Col Wray went by rail to Gemai to take charge of the boats and gather stores. At Sarras, 30 miles further on, the detachment was joined by skilled Canadian boatmen called voyageurs, two being appointed to each company. At this point Sir Garnet Wolseley offered a £100 prize to the first unit to reach Ed Debba.
1885 January - Navigating the waterways.
Navigating the river from Sarras proved difficult because of the shallow, narrow rapids that were encountered. One stretch of rapids, 5 miles in length, took 10 hours of continuous hard labour, including off-loading and dragging the boats along the river bank. At Dal the cataract proved too difficult and the stores had to be unloaded and carried 3 to 4 miles before being reloaded into the boats. Fortunately, the next 100 miles proved to be much easier to navigate. A diary was kept by some of the officers including, Captain John Burton Foster who would later command the Royal Irish Regiment becoming its Colonel in 1918. He wrote of the hardship of loading and unloading the stores, which were arranged like a Chinese Puzzle to fit them in, of how the whole day was taken up with strenuous rowing or punting or 'tracking' (pulling the boat over dry land). The men worked in only their greatcoats so that they could easily slip naked into the water to push the boat off the rocks. Wounds and scratches never healed because of the wet conditions and at night the boats had to be repaired before they could fall exhausted to sleep where they fell. All ranks had to work hard including the RC Chaplain Robert Brindle and the C.O. Hugh Shaw VC. Shaw very nearly drowned but was saved by three N.C.O’s. The Royal Irish were the first to reach Ed Debba and the men won Wolseley's prize. They reached the concentration area at Korti between the 23 and 27 January. Throughout the journey there had been no contact with the enemy but the battalion had lost around 15% of its establishment through sickness.
The day after the 1/RIR reached Korti it discovered a new kind of hardship… desert marching! A camel-mounted column of 1,100 men under Maj-Gen Herbert Stewart had set off on the 8 January to relieve Khartoum. Stewart established a base at Gadkul and then faced a Mahdi force of around 12,000 Dervishes at Abu Tulayh (Abu Klea) on the 17 January. Around 5,000 Dervishes attacked the British Square and suffered considerable casualties before withdrawing. On the 19 January the mounted column continued its advance towards Khartoum and fought another action at Metemmeh/Abu Kru. Lord Wolseley decided to send the 1/RIR to reinforce Stewart’s column but as the only camels available were used for carrying stores, the Irishmen set off on foot in a column led by Sir Redvers Buller and made 98 miles to Gadkul in just 108 hours. At Gadkul news reached them that Khartoum had fallen and that Gordon was dead; their expedition was no longer viable. Maj-Gen Stewart of the mounted column had been wounded leaving Gen. C.W. Wilson to take command. However, word had been received that the returning casualties and escort from the engagement at Abu Kru had got into difficulties on the short river journey back to Gubat so three companies of the 1/Royal Irish were sent to their assistance. Having just arrived back at Gubat, a second report was received stating that a large enemy force was searching for the column of casualties intending to attack it, which resulted in half of the battalion being sent out again under Lt-Col Shaw. As it turned out Shaw's men arrived just as the enemy were retreating from another British column that had been sent from Gakdul. The Royal Irish spent the following day destroying stores and throwing ammunition into the Nile because the camels were so weak that they were no longer able to be used as transport animals.
Abu Klea, February 1885
On the 14 February the column left Gubat with the Royal Irish acting as rear-guard. They halted at Abu Klea, the scene of a famous battle fought by the Mounted Camel Regiment the month before, and were re-united with the 2 companies that had been previously left behind to carry out work on the defences of the wells. On the 16 February the regiment set up defensive positions on the hills about Abu Klea where it came under attack from the Mahdists. The Royal Irish opened fire assisted by a hand-cranked Gardner machine gun and screw guns (2.5” rifled muzzle loading mountain guns, which held the enemy in check. The firing went on all night and during the following day the regiment came under fire from a field piece. Heavier guns were needed to counter this and 2 seven-pounders were brought up to drive the Dervishes away.
The march back to Korti
Lord Wolseley was encouraged by the British Government’s vow to avenge Gordon and a plan was made to attack Abu Hamed and Berber, but due to the sorry state of the camels and the men's boots the field force had to abandon the expedition. Buller's column left Abu Klea for the return to Korti after the wells had been filled with scrub to make it difficult for the Dervishes to draw water from them. On the 20 February the column of 1,740 men set off under the watchful eyes of 4,000 Dervishes. The column reached Gakdul 6 days later and rested for four days before setting-off again on the 3 March reaching Korti on the 14 March. The men looked like tramps when they marched in, clad in ragged clothes and almost no boots at all, they were dusty and very thirsty. Lord Wolseley inspected the Royal Irish two days later, praising them and thanking them for their hard work. The regiment was assigned to a moveable column under Brig-Gen Brackenbury and stationed at Kurot village near Ed Debbeh until the 11 May when it was embarked on whale-boats, once again, to be taken down river. At Alexandria the regiment received a draft of 179 men from the 2nd Battalion in Malta, but 58 of them under Lt. D.G. Gregorie were assigned to the Mounted Infantry and sent to Suakin.
The men were given the Egypt medal with a clasp for THE NILE 1884-85, and the Khedive's Star. The regiment also gained the battle honour NILE 1884-85. From Alexandria, the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment boarded the SS Sterling on the 24 August 1885 and sailed to England reaching Plymouth on the 9 September 1885.
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