JERRY O’REGAN, MY GRANDFATHER AND THE GREAT WAR: FROM GLANTANE TO YOUGHAL AND THE SOMME

Posted on August 6, 2014

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JEREMIAH O'REGAN

MY GRANDFATHER JEREMIAH O’REGAN NEVER TALKED ABOUT THE GREAT WAR AND HIS PART IN IT. OVER THE YEARS HE GAVE AWAY HIS MEDALS. MANY RECORDS INCLUDING HIS, WERE ‘BURNT’. IN 2008 I KNEW LITTLE ABOUT HIS YEARS IN THE ARMY, THE MUNSTER FUSILIERS, HIS INJURIES, ETC. HOWEVER HIS DAUGHTER KATHLEEN FAHY HAD HIS DISCHARGE PAPERS.

SO I ENQUIRED WHERE I COULD GET MORE INFORMATION AND THIS LEAD TO CHRIS BAKER AND HIS COMPANY ‘FOURTEENEIGHTEEN’. CHRIS PRODUCED A RECONSTRUCTION OF HIS MILITARY SERVICE, USING THE INFORMATION I GAVE HIM, AS WELL AS SEARCHING THE ARCHIVES. THIS HISTORY IS PROBABLY TYPICAL OF MANY  A ‘MUNSTER’ OR OTHER SOLDIER IN THE GREAT WAR.

ALL OF THE TRAINING GROUNDS WHERE HE WENT PREPARING FOR WAR, COINCIDENTALLY AS AN ARCHAEOLOGIST, I HAD VISITED OR HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN WORK THERE: BERE ISLAND, CAMDEN, CROWNHILL, MONTROSE ETC. WITHOUT KNOWING IT, I HAD FOLLOWED IN MY GRANDFATHER’S FOOTSTEPS.

AN INTERVIEW WHICH I HAD WITH NOEL CRONIN OF COMMUNITY RADIO YOUGHAL 104FM, IN 2008, RESULTED IN THE DOWNLOADING OF THE MILITARY HISTORY OF JEREMIAH O’REGAN (PRODUCED BY CHRIS BAKER, http://www.fourteeneighteen.co.uk) ONTO THE RADIO’S WEBSITE: YOUGHALONLINE.COM 104FM.

http://www.youghalonline.com/2011/04/29/the-military-service-history-of-jeremiah-oregan/

HOWEVER, I AM NOW PASTING IT HERE.

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The military service history of Jeremiah O’Regan
A report from fourteeneighteen/research December 2008
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Introduction
Report prepared for Catryn Power

Our thanks
We are very pleased that you selected fourteeneighteen/research for the
project. It has been a great pleasure to undertake the work and we sincerely
hope that you enjoy reading the report. Although we have tried to provide as
full an interpretation of the documents as possible, please do not hesitate to
contact us if there are outstanding questions or points you would like to
clarify.

Starting point
You were kindly able to provide us with a good deal of information about
Jeremiah O’Regan’s service from various discharge documents.
The contents of the report
Our report contains the following sections:
1. The results of searching the archives and sources of information
2. A reconstruction of his military service history
3. Some useful supporting information.
Chris Baker
Our project reference 7601/3627
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The results of searching the archives and sources
of information
Army service records
The primary and most comprehensive source of information concerning a
soldier’s military career is his service record. The various forms and other
documents making up the record covered the entire process between
enlistment and discharge. If they can be found they often provide personal,
family and medical details, in addition to the facts of his training, postings to
units, disciplinary record and so on. The service record is, for men who
survived, the only source that is likely to mention the man’s address and next
of kin.
There are three collections of Great War army service records, all of which are
held at the National Archives in Kew. These are the WO363 (“burnt”), WO364
and PIN26 (“pensions) collections, which originally included between them
the records of all men who were discharged from the army prior to 1922. Only
some 30% of soldiers papers now exist in these collections as the remainder
were destroyed by fire in the War Office warehouse where they were stored in
London in 1940.
Regrettably, after a thorough search we could find no papers that could be
identified as belonging to Jeremiah, based on the starting information. It
may be that they have been destroyed. However the information that he was
still serving up to 1922 means that his record may still be held by the
Ministry of Defence and was not among the records of the Great War era
that were released to the public and which we have searched. We give details
about how you might obtain a copy, later in our report.


Medals records
The medal entitlement documents are a limited source of information, as they
only give bare military details from the moment the man’s qualification began
– which is when he first landed overseas. However, they are intact and the
details of virtually all soldiers who qualified can be found. The records consist
of an entry for the individual in a “roll”, which is essentially a list of men who
qualified for the particular medal, plus an index card which provides a
reference to the rolls in which the soldier is recorded.
We have attached copies of Jeremiah’s entries in the index and roll of the
British War and Victory Medals.
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Gallantry and other special awards
Gallantry and other unusual awards were invariably announced in the London
Gazette, the official newspaper of British Parliament. This was usually
followed a day or two later by a reprint in the “Times”.
Searching using his name, possible number and regiment, we could not find
any reference to any awards other than the campaign medals.

National Roll of Honour and de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour
Both of these contemporary works were compiled on a subscription basis (in
other words, the soldier or his family paid for an entry), which means that
they are far from comprehensive although they do list many tens of thousands
of men. Listings were often written by family members who may not have
given correct details at the time of compilation and in consequence neither are
not considered to be completely reliable. The publishers of the larger National
Roll began to compile the volumes in 1920, but had gone into liquidation by
1922 having produced only fourteen volumes.
We could find no reference to Jeremiah O’Regan in either work. This is not
surprising as coverage of Ireland was poor in both cases.

Operational records
All infantry battalions were obliged to maintain a war diary while they were on
active service. Although they generally used a standard format and were under
instructions giving the sort of information to be recorded, they vary
enormously in quality and content.
We have searched the war diary of the infantry battalion with which he
served, but without success in finding him mentioned. This is not unusual for
men of the “other ranks” are very rarely named in these records.
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A reconstruction of his military service
As will be seen, the medals documents provide only the minimum of military
information. In this section of the report we take the facts contained in those
documents together with others that are in your possession and reassemble
them into a narrative. Where necessary, we have used some detective work
and knowledge of how the army worked in order to recreate his story.
Enlistment and training


The absence of the 1914-15 Star from his medal entitlement tells us that
Jeremiah did not go overseas before 1916. When he did, he was serving as
Private 477 of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. On arrival in France he was posted
to join the 2nd Battalion of his regiment. This unit had landed overseas in 1914
so it is evident that he was joining with a draft, coming to replace casualties.
The information you already had suggests that Jeremiah enlisted on 10
September 1914. He was certainly a volunteer, for conscription was not
introduced by the British Government until March 1916 and did not apply it in
Ireland.


From existing service record of other men from Cork who were numbered
near to Jeremiah, it is possible to deduce that he was almost certainly enlisted
into the 5th Battalion under the new terms offered by Lord Kitchener, for
service of three years or the duration of war, whichever longer.1
The battalion, strictly named the 5th (Extra Reserve) battalion, was for men
who enlisted into the Special Reserve (SR). The SR was established in April
1908 and was open to men who had no prior military experience, but former
soldiers whose term of service had expired could also join it. The man joined
the SR for an initial term of six years but could extend it to ten. It was a form
of part-time soldiering. He was expected to commence with six months full
time training and to attend for three to four weeks training per year thereafter.
For this he was paid a small bounty, but of course it came at a price: he was
obliged to mobilise for active service if called upon. Each regiment of infantry
had a one or more battalions that carried out the administration and training
of the SR men. In fact, the Munsters had three, and 5th (Extra Reserve) was
based at Limerick. Once war was declared, the Special Reserve was mobilised
and a large proportion of the 1914 recruits joined its units for training.
5th (Extra Reserve) Battalion, once its men had assembled, moved to
Queenstown, going on in October 1914 to Bere Island and in March 1915 to
Crosshaven. It moved again in May 1915, going to England at North Shields,
returning in September to the Curragh and in August 1917 went on to Galway.
It moved to Invergordon in Scotland in November 1917 and Fort George in
1 An example is Private 386 Daniel Finnegan from Innescara, who enlisted on 6 September 1914. He
joined 2nd Battalion in France in May 1915. There is no obvious reason why Jeremiah O’Regan should
not have gone to France as this time, but any number of reasons why he might be delayed; illness,
training delays, even playing a part in training other men.
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April 1918, finally to Plymouth in May 1918 where it was absorbed by the 3rd
(Reserve) Battalion.
Exactly when Jeremiah landed overseas is very difficult to tell other than it
was after 1915 (and, as will be seen below, some time before September 1918).
Drafts were sent to 2nd Battalion at frequent intervals and particularly during
its fighting on the Somme in the summer of 1916.
Service in France
Later in our report we have given an outline of this history of the battalion.
We can only assume that Jeremiah served with the battalion without a break,
other than for home leave (and that would not have been more than two or
three times during the war) until he was transferred to the Labour Corps and
renumbered to 634983.


The Labour Corps was in effect a new regiment, created during 1917. It was
manned by soldiers who had been medically downgraded, usually after
recovering from being wounded or sick, and who were considered well enough
to carry out manual labouring work overseas but not for the front line. It grew
into a great sprawling organisation, comprising several hundred different
Companies, of somewhat varying size. Labour Corps records are very patchy
indeed, reflecting an army attitude that treated it rather as a second-class
affair. For example, those men who died are commemorated under their
original regiment, with their Labour Corps details being added as a secondary
line. Very few operational records of any Labour Corps units exist and the
men’s units are very rarely given in the medals records. You are very fortunate
in having the information that he served with 89th Company, but
unfortunately no records exist of the role or locations of this unit. It is known
to have been in France.

The war diary offers no specific clue about Jeremiah’s departure from the 2nd
Royal Munster Fusiliers and a search of the casualty lines in the “Times”
(using an online search facility) produced no result. It is possible that his
medical downgrading was the result of illness, injury or physical deterioration
rather than a wound, although the timing of his transfer suggests that if he
was wounded the most likely time was in late March 1918 when the 2nd
Battalion suffered heavy casualties. It appears that he was downgraded from
the “A1” medical category required for front line service to “B2”.
Jeremiah’s new number appears to have been issued in September 1918. This
is once again a deduction based on the existing service records of men
numbered near to him.2

2 As an example, Private 634906 John Finlayson, who came from Montrose in Scotland. He was
conscripted in March 1916, wounded in the arm while serving with the Seaforth Highlanders in July
1917, transferred to the Labour Corps in September 1918 and was posted to serve with 861 Area
Employment Company.
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Jeremiah was discharged from the army by being transferred to Class Z Army
Reserve on 24 February 1919. This was the standard route out of military
service for wartime volunteers and conscripts to the regular army. It meant
that the soldier could return to civilian life but subject to being recalled if
required, for twelve months after discharge. In the event, no Class Z men were
recalled and the Class was abolished on 31 March 1920.


After the war
On 14 June 1919, he re-enlisted into the regular army. Once again he joined
the Royal Munster Fusiliers and this time received the number 32438. It is
most interesting to see this number given in his medals documents; strictly
they should only cover up to and including 11 November 1918.
The army radically changed its method of numbering soldiers in August 1920.
The old regimental systems were abolished and a new army-wide scheme
introduced. The Royal Munster Fusiliers was allotted the block of numbers
7211001 to 7245000 to use for numbering its existing men and future recruits.
Jeremiah became Private 7211755.

A variety of different terms of service were offered to men who re-enlisted
after the war, but the most likely is that he agreed to serve for seven years. It
appears that he did not re-enlist into the Special Reserve but almost certainly
joined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion before being posted to either the 1st or 2nd,
both of which were units of the regular army. 1st Battalion was from 1919 in
Germany as part of the Army of Occupation in the Rhine bridgeheads; 2nd
Battalion was in Egypt.

Jeremiah’s campaign medals were sent to him automatically. It was not
necessary to claim them. The British War and Victory Medals were usually
despatched in 1921. They were to recognise that the soldier had left his native
shore and entered a theatre of war, respectively.

By 1922 the British Government was taking steps to reduce its military
commitments and also preparing for the disbanding of the Irish regiments.
Jeremiah was discharged in these changes on 25 July 1922. The Royal
Munster Fusiliers ceased to exist six days later.
It is this period of Jeremiah’s military service that ensures he will have some
records held by the British Ministry of Defence. Due to proof of kinship
requirements we are unable to obtain these records for you. We have attached
the necessary form; a fee of £30 is currently required and if paying by cheque
it should be made to “MOD Accounting Office”. Quote his number 7211755
and do not worry about the requirement for a death certificate, but explain he
served 1914-1922.
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With the Irish Defence Forces
Jeremiah enlisted once again on 30 August 1922, but this time into the new
Irish Defence Forces of the Free State (Óglaigh na hÉireann), which is also
sometimes known as the Irish National Army. We are unable to offer any
advice on which units Jeremiah may have joined or which actions of the civil
war he may have been involved in. We understand that some records may be
available via enquiry at the Military Archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks,
Dublin 6, but that proof of kinship is required.
He was finally discharged on 12 December 1925 and was Sergeant 30032.
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Supporting information
The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers
The 2nd Battalion, part of Britain’s pre-war regular army, moved very early to
France as part of the crack 1st (Guards) Brigade in 1st Division, with which it
took little part in the battle at Mons on 23 August 1914. Withdrawing from
that place, it found itself on 27 August as an isolated rearguard at Etreux. The
battalion was surrounded and effectively destroyed on this day, losing several
hundred men, many as prisoners. It did not return to action until November
1914, joining 3rd Brigade of 1st Division after receiving drafts of new men.
The battalion went on to see action at Aubers, Festubert and Loos in 1915,
extensively on the Somme in 1916 and at Passchendaele in September and
October 1917. It was also taken to the Belgian coast in June 1917 to prepare for
an amphibious landing further up the coast as part of the original plan for this
battle, but in the event the opportunity did not arise – perhaps fortunately for
the men involved.
In February 1918, the battalion was transferred to join 48th Brigade in 16th
(Irish) Division – the 1st Battalion of the regiment also being with the Division
at this time.
In March 1918, the Division suffered very heavy loses in defensive fighting
against the huge enemy offensive on the Somme. The Germans attacked on 21
March, at which date the battalion was holding a sector of the front line. It was
simply deluged with poison gas and shellfire, with the remnant of the
battalion assisting in the defensive fight at Epehy before being ordered to
withdraw.
After being virtually destroyed in the enemy offensive, the battalion was
reduced to a small cadre and the surplus troops dispersed. It was not until
July 1918 that it returned to action, by now as part of the 50th (Northumbrian)
Division.
Both 1st and 2nd Battalions were disbanded in 1922 when Ireland assumed
independence.
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The British infantry battalion in 1914-1918
The battalion was the basic tactical unit of the infantry of the British Army in
the Great War of 1914-1918. At full establishment, it consisted of 1,007 men, of
whom 30 were officers. It comprised a Battalion Headquarters and four
Companies.

Battalion Headquarters
The Battalion was usually commanded by an officer with the rank of
Lieutenant Colonel. A Major was Second-in-Command. Battalion HQ also had
three other officers: a Captain or Lieutenant filled the role of Adjutant (in
charge of Battalion administration); similarly a Captain or Lieutenant was the
Quartermaster (responsible for stores and transport); an officer of the Royal
Army Medical Corps was also attached.
Battalion HQ also included the Regimental Sergeant-Major (RSM, the most
senior Non-Commissioned Officer) plus a number of specialist roles filled by
NCO’s with the rank of Sergeant: Quartermaster, Drummer, Cook, Pioneer,
Shoemaker, Transport, Signaller, Armourer (often attached from the Army
Ordnance Corps), and Orderly Room Clerk.
A Corporal and 4 privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps were attached for
water duties; a Corporal and 15 Privates were employed as Signallers; 10
Privates were employed as Pioneers (on construction, repair and general
engineering duties); 11 Privates acted as Drivers for the horse-drawn
transport; 16 acted as Stretcher-bearers (these often being the musicians of
the Battalion Band); 6 Privates acted as Officers Batmen (personal servants),
and 2 as Orderlies for the Medical Officer.
Companies
Usually lettered A to D each of the 4 Companies numbered 227 heads at full
establishment. Each was commanded by a Major or Captain, with a Captain as
Second-in-Command. Company HQ included a Company Sergeant-Major
(CSM), a Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS), 2 Privates acting as
Batmen, and 3 as Drivers. The body of the Company was divided into 4
Platoons, each of which was commanded by a subaltern (a Lieutenant or
Second Lieutenant). In total, the 4 Platoons consisted of 8 Sergeants, 10
Corporals, 4 Drummers, 4 Batmen and 188 Privates. Each Platoon was
subdivided into 4 Sections, each of 12 men under an NCO.
If asked, after his name, rank and number, a man might refer to himself as
being in Number 3 Section, 2 Platoon, B Company, the 17th Manchester
Regiment. A Private soldier would also know the brigade his battalion was in,
and certainly the division the brigade was attached to. It seems that most men
identified first with their regiment, then with their division.
Also in the Battalion
Each battalion had, in 1914, a Machine-gun Section consisting of a Lieutenant,
a Sergeant, a Corporal, 2 Drivers, a Batman and 12 Privates trained in the
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maintenance, transport, loading and firing of the Vickers heavy machine gun.
These men made up two six-man gun teams.
Also on the battalion strength were 8 Lance-Sergeants and 49 Lance Corporals
(these being included in the figures already given above).
Each battalion had a detachment at its Base Depot, which did not take the
field when the battalion was on active service. The Base Detachment consisted
– in theory – of a subaltern, 2 Sergeants and 91 Privates to form a first
reinforcement (to make good Battalion casualties or other losses); 4 Storemen,
the Band Sergeant and the Sergeant Master Tailor. When the Battalion went
on active service, it left behind the Bandmaster and the Sergeant-Instructor of
Musketry, for service with the Reserve Battalion.
Equipment
Battalion transport consisted of 13 riding, and 43 draught and packhorses.
The provided the power for drawing the six ammunition carts, two water carts,
three General Service Wagons (for tools and machine guns), and the MO’s
Maltese Cart. The Signallers had 9 bicycles. (Note: the Divisional Train also
provided four more two-horsed GS Wagons for each battalion.
All ranks carried a rifle – which for the regular battalions (and after the early
days when all sorts of older equipment was supplied to the Territorial and
Service battalions, all of these were eventually similarly equipped) was the
Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE). The only exceptions were officers,
Pipers, Drummers, Buglers and the five men in each Battalion who carried
range-finding instruments. All those carrying a rifle, except the RSM and
other Staff Sergeants, were also armed with the sword-bayonet.
Other battalion equipment, over and above that carried by the man, included
120 shovels, 73 pickaxes, 20 felling axes, 8 hand axes, 46 billhooks, 20 reaping
hooks, a hand saw, 32 folding saws and 8 crowbars. There was also a plethora
of minor stores and spares.
The battalion also carried a certain amount of ammunition, although this was
backed up by the echelons of Transport at Brigade, Divisional and Lines of
Communication levels. When added together, the supply per rifle came to 550
rounds per man. The Battalion Transport carried 32 boxes of 1,000 rounds,
and each man could carry up to 120 rounds. The machine guns were each
supplied with a total of 41,500 rounds of which 3,500 was carried with the
gun, and 8,000 in regimental reserve.
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The Labour Corps
Although the army was able to use some railways, steam engines and tracked
vehicles for haulage, the immense effort of building and maintaining roads,
railways, buildings, telegraph and telephone systems, etc and also for moving
stores relied on horse and human. In August 1914 there was no formed body of
troops specifically designed for this task. All too often the task fell upon
fighting troops who were supposed to be at rest.
Formed in January 1917 once this problem had become recognised, the
Labour Corps grew hugely and by the end of the war numbered some 389,900
men – more than 10% of the total size of the army at that time. Of this total,
around 175,000 were working in the United Kingdom and the rest in the
theatres of war. In April 1917, a number of infantry battalions that had
effectively been used as labouring units were transferred to the Corps. It also
absorbed 28 ASC Labour Companies then in existence between February and
June 1917.
In common with the rest of the army, the labour units became increasingly
well-organised. However, despite adding large numbers of men from India,
Egypt, China and elsewhere, there were never enough men to do all the
labouring work required even though the totals men engaged at the end of the
war approximated 700,000 in the labour units alone. In many cases the men
of the infantry, artillery and other units were still forced to give up time to
hard effort when perhaps training or rest might have been a more effective
option.
Units of the Labour Corps were manned and officered by men who had been
medically graded below A1 but were fit enough to do some form of manual
work.
Labour Corps units were often deployed for work within range of the enemy
guns, sometimes for lengthy periods. In the crises of March and April 1918 on
the Western Front, Labour Corps units were used as emergency infantry. The
Corps always suffered from lack of transport, many inexperienced officers and
troops of low physical grade.
According to the Official History: “..although some labour units were raised
and eventually labourers from various parts of the Empire and China were
brought to France, the numbers were never at any period sufficient for the
demands of a great army operating in a friendly country”.
Transport and the lines of communication were the largest areas in which
labour was needed. For example at the date of the Armistice, 41,000 men were
engaged in labour on the roads behind the Western Front, 29,000 were on
railway construction, 11,000 in the docks and 8,000 on other duties
associated with transportation, making 89,000 men in all.


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JEREMIAH O'REGAN

 

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