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Remembered Today:

12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles


richardp@comsine.co.uk
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Hi all

My great uncle, Ernest Gibson, was a Corporal in the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, having initially been in the London Regiment and then being transferred to the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles before that was disbanded in early 1918 and he was sent to the 12th Battalion. He was killed on the 11th April 1918, but his body was not recovered. I believe that the 12th Battalion's War Diary is at the National Archives (but sadly not yet in their online archive), but I'm going to struggle to make a trip to Kew in the near future. I was therefore wondering if some kind soul had access to the 12th Battalion's War Diary for April 1918 and could (obviously only if it's short) tell me what it says for the 10/11th of that month? I believe that around that time the Battalion was in action at Mount Kemmel?

Many thanks

Richard

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The 108th Brigade was in II Corps reserve. At noon on the 10th it received orders to move at once to Kemmel, with "C" Company of the Machine-Gun Battalion. 'Buses were provided for dismounted personnel. The 'bus column, moving via La Clytte, reached Kemmel village at 4-15 p.m., the Brigade coming under the orders of the G.O.C 19th Division That Division, with the 9th, had been fighting hotly for the defence of the Messines Ridge.

The admirable steadiness of their young recruits and the gallant fashion in which their counter-attacks had been launched form a brilliant page in the history of the war, and helped to turn the Lys offensive, huge as were its gains, into one of the most expensive and fruitless of the great series of German assaults General Griffith was ordered to put his Brigade into the Kemmel defences His headquarters were established in Kemmel Château.

Shortly after midnight General Griffith received orders to move up to the Messines Ridge, in support of the weak South African Brigade of the 9th Division, which had been thrown into the battle under the orders of the 19th. The 1st Irish Fusiliers took up a line on the Messines - Wytschaete Road, from five hundred yards north of the former village to the neighbourhood of the 36th Division's old acquaintance, Pick House.

The 12th Rifles was on the Spanbroek Ridge in support; the 9th Fusiliers about the old British front line on the Wulverghem-Messines Road. The morning passed fairly quietly, but there was ominous news as to the German advance north of Ploegsteert. General Griffith received a secret warning order that, in the event of the enemy capturing Hill 63, the whole line would have to pivot back across the Spanbroek Ridge and its prolongation east of Wulverghem, south of which village touch would be obtained with the 25th Division.

At half-past three, after heavy bombardment, the enemy launched an attack upon the crest-road. The South Africans on the left were pushed off it, and the line of the 1st Irish Fusiliers broken. A very gallant counter-attack by Fusiliers and South Africans, side by side, restored the position, though subsequent pressure on the left of the latter forced them to bend back somewhat from the road toward Hell Farm.

At 7 p.m. came another assault, in face of which the Fusiliers lost not a yard of ground. None of the officers who took those raw boys into action can have dared to expect of them such steadiness and resolution as they now displayed. At night, however, came orders to carry into effect the movement anticipated in the warning order. The advance of the enemy to the south had made it only too necessary. The ridge must go, though the 9th Division was still to cling to its northern crown, the village of Wytschaete.

The retirement was carried out before dawn, but it was discovered on its completion that there was no touch with the left flank of the 25th Division.

After a great deal of trouble, this was attained by withdrawing the right of the 108th Brigade some hundred yards. All day was heavy shelling, but no infantry attack developed till after six o'clock On this occasion, as always, the Germans placed great reliance upon a local assault delivered as dusk was falling, which just permitted attacked to consolidate a position won, and gave no time for a counter attack before the pall of darkness descended. Such a night as this, which would be lit scarce at all by the thin sickle of a new moon, was peculiarly favourable to these tactic.

They were, however, unsuccessful Once again the defence of the 108th Brigade prevailed. The left of the 9th Fusiliers was driven back. Quickly a counter-attack was launched. The reserve company of the 9th, led by the commanding officer of the battalion, Lieut.-Colonel P E Kelly and a company of the 12th Rifles, led by Major Holt Waring most gallantly restored the position By eight o'clock a was quiet But casualties had been heavy.

The 1st Fusiliers in particular had had very serious losses the previous day on the Messines Ridge. This battalion was reorganise as a company, and attached to the 9th. During the night there was no touch with troops of the 25th Division, the gap having formed owing to the advance of the enemy on Neuve Eglise and the consequent lengthening of the line. In the early hours of April the 13th a battalion of the 178th Brigade, now attached to the 19th Division, was moved up to fill it.

The 13th was a day of continuous alarms. Parties the enemy made attempts at dawn to advance by short rushes on the front of the 12th Rifles, east of Wulverghem but were beaten off with loss by Lewis-gun and rifle fire. A couple of hours later fresh attacks appeared to be brewing. Parties of Germans were dispersed by the fire of machine and Lewis guns. The former were excellently placed by an officer who knew every foot of the ground, Captain Walker, in old positions which he had often held before the Battle of Messines in 1917.

Then, all through the afternoon, small parties of the enemy strove to make ground under cover the old camouflage screens upon the Messines-Wulverghem Road. They were counter-attacked and driven off, suffered considerable casualties from the fire of Lewis guns The position on the right flank was, however, more desperate than ever. At nine o'clock had come from the 25th Division the evil news that the Germans were in Neuve Eglise.

During the night the 9th Fusiliers was relieved by troops of the 178th Brigade, and withdrawn to the dug-outs on Kemmel Hill.

The 12th Rifles remained in line. The relieved battalion was not given long to rest. Before noon it was ordered to man the Kemmel defences, and to send up its company of the 1st Fusiliers to dug-outs behind the old British front line opposite Kruisstraat Cabaret.

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Sorry forgot to mention - this is from Cyril Fall's history of the 36th Ulster Division.

You can read more about the 12th Royal Irish Rifles on my 'battle website' below; still have a lot of stuff to add. One day I'll get round to it!

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The 108th Brigade was in II Corps reserve. At noon on the 10th it received orders to move at once to Kemmel, with "C" Company of the Machine-Gun Battalion. 'Buses were provided for dismounted personnel. The 'bus column, moving via La Clytte, reached Kemmel village at 4-15 p.m., the Brigade coming under the orders of the G.O.C 19th Division That Division, with the 9th, had been fighting hotly for the defence of the Messines Ridge.

The admirable steadiness of their young recruits and the gallant fashion in which their counter-attacks had been launched form a brilliant page in the history of the war, and helped to turn the Lys offensive, huge as were its gains, into one of the most expensive and fruitless of the great series of German assaults General Griffith was ordered to put his Brigade into the Kemmel defences His headquarters were established in Kemmel Château.

Shortly after midnight General Griffith received orders to move up to the Messines Ridge, in support of the weak South African Brigade of the 9th Division, which had been thrown into the battle under the orders of the 19th. The 1st Irish Fusiliers took up a line on the Messines - Wytschaete Road, from five hundred yards north of the former village to the neighbourhood of the 36th Division's old acquaintance, Pick House.

The 12th Rifles was on the Spanbroek Ridge in support; the 9th Fusiliers about the old British front line on the Wulverghem-Messines Road. The morning passed fairly quietly, but there was ominous news as to the German advance north of Ploegsteert. General Griffith received a secret warning order that, in the event of the enemy capturing Hill 63, the whole line would have to pivot back across the Spanbroek Ridge and its prolongation east of Wulverghem, south of which village touch would be obtained with the 25th Division.

At half-past three, after heavy bombardment, the enemy launched an attack upon the crest-road. The South Africans on the left were pushed off it, and the line of the 1st Irish Fusiliers broken. A very gallant counter-attack by Fusiliers and South Africans, side by side, restored the position, though subsequent pressure on the left of the latter forced them to bend back somewhat from the road toward Hell Farm.

At 7 p.m. came another assault, in face of which the Fusiliers lost not a yard of ground. None of the officers who took those raw boys into action can have dared to expect of them such steadiness and resolution as they now displayed. At night, however, came orders to carry into effect the movement anticipated in the warning order. The advance of the enemy to the south had made it only too necessary. The ridge must go, though the 9th Division was still to cling to its northern crown, the village of Wytschaete.

The retirement was carried out before dawn, but it was discovered on its completion that there was no touch with the left flank of the 25th Division.

After a great deal of trouble, this was attained by withdrawing the right of the 108th Brigade some hundred yards. All day was heavy shelling, but no infantry attack developed till after six o'clock On this occasion, as always, the Germans placed great reliance upon a local assault delivered as dusk was falling, which just permitted attacked to consolidate a position won, and gave no time for a counter attack before the pall of darkness descended. Such a night as this, which would be lit scarce at all by the thin sickle of a new moon, was peculiarly favourable to these tactic.

They were, however, unsuccessful Once again the defence of the 108th Brigade prevailed. The left of the 9th Fusiliers was driven back. Quickly a counter-attack was launched. The reserve company of the 9th, led by the commanding officer of the battalion, Lieut.-Colonel P E Kelly and a company of the 12th Rifles, led by Major Holt Waring most gallantly restored the position By eight o'clock a was quiet But casualties had been heavy.

The 1st Fusiliers in particular had had very serious losses the previous day on the Messines Ridge. This battalion was reorganise as a company, and attached to the 9th. During the night there was no touch with troops of the 25th Division, the gap having formed owing to the advance of the enemy on Neuve Eglise and the consequent lengthening of the line. In the early hours of April the 13th a battalion of the 178th Brigade, now attached to the 19th Division, was moved up to fill it.

The 13th was a day of continuous alarms. Parties the enemy made attempts at dawn to advance by short rushes on the front of the 12th Rifles, east of Wulverghem but were beaten off with loss by Lewis-gun and rifle fire. A couple of hours later fresh attacks appeared to be brewing. Parties of Germans were dispersed by the fire of machine and Lewis guns. The former were excellently placed by an officer who knew every foot of the ground, Captain Walker, in old positions which he had often held before the Battle of Messines in 1917.

Then, all through the afternoon, small parties of the enemy strove to make ground under cover the old camouflage screens upon the Messines-Wulverghem Road. They were counter-attacked and driven off, suffered considerable casualties from the fire of Lewis guns The position on the right flank was, however, more desperate than ever. At nine o'clock had come from the 25th Division the evil news that the Germans were in Neuve Eglise.

During the night the 9th Fusiliers was relieved by troops of the 178th Brigade, and withdrawn to the dug-outs on Kemmel Hill.

The 12th Rifles remained in line. The relieved battalion was not given long to rest. Before noon it was ordered to man the Kemmel defences, and to send up its company of the 1st Fusiliers to dug-outs behind the old British front line opposite Kruisstraat Cabaret.

Wow - thanks Desmond - that's fantastic. I'll have a careful read through, but it looks like I'll be able to place exactly (well near enough) where Ernest died and in what (general) circumstances.

Richard

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Sorry forgot to mention - this is from Cyril Fall's history of the 36th Ulster Division.

You can read more about the 12th Royal Irish Rifles on my 'battle website' below; still have a lot of stuff to add. One day I'll get round to it!

Very interesting Desmond - thanks for the links - you've put a lot of work into your site.

Do you know if there is any way of finding out which Company Ernest would have been in?

Many thanks

Richard

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Sorry can't help you on the company score.

However, you ask in another thread about the 13th Rifles and for a potential time frame when replacements could have been brought into the Btn ... I reckon this period below might be worth looking at? Only a brief window I know but maybe could pay a dividend for you.

June 1917 - Post Messines

On the 29th a welcome relief of the 36th by the 37th Division took place. On the following day the G.O.C. 37th Division took over command of the front, the whole of the 36th Division, less Artillery, Engineers, and Pioneers, moving to the Merris area.

The Headquarters of the Division and that of the 108th Brigade were in that village; the 107th Brigade at Outtersteene, and the 109th at Strazeele. The batteries, which had withdrawn to their forward wagon-lines for rest on the 19th, had returned to the line by the 27th in relief of the 11th Divisional Artillery, and remained there till July the 5th, under heavy hostile shelling, in indifferent weather with poor visibility.

The Pioneers and Field Companies had but a day's rest before being moved to the Salient to begin new work.

The first week of July was given to rest and training at Merris

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Hi Desmond

Thanks for the info - gives me something to investigate further.

I know from his medal card that he was in the 13th Btn, having been in the London Regiment first. He was not down for a 1915 Star, so I imagine he first went to France in 1916 (out of interest - he'd also been in the CIV in the Boer War). The London Gazette has him being awarded the MM in August 1917 and in the citation lists him as being in the RIF. However I'm not sure what he actually won his MM for and when that was - I guess sometime before the announcement made it into the Gazette. Lester Morrow thought that an action the 13th Btn were involved in in June 1917 at Messines could be where he won it - which could tie in with a transfer from the London Regiment at that time. I guess I need to look at the Btn War Diary for the 13th to see if it lists his MM award - that would give me an earliest date at which I knew he was in the 13th.

On the other hand maybe he got the MM when he was in the London Regiment, but had changed by the time the Gazette published the news and therefore listed his new regiment? Seems a little unlikely to me, but then I'm no expert . . .

Much appreciated

Richard

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