South African Military 
History Society


November 2006

The August DDH talk was given by Brian Kennedy, entitled "The Curragh Mutiny of 1914".

To understand this incident one must begin at 1 January 1801, when the crowns of Ireland and Britain were united by a vote in the Irish parliament that represented only 10% of the population. Catholic emancipation followed in 1829, and from 1880, Parnell pressed for Home rule.

In 1886 a bill was passed but was never introduced in the House of Lords. In 1894 a similar Bill was defeated. Finally in 1911 there were two elections and the Irish Nationalists held the balance of power, so eventually in 1912 the Home Rule Bill was passed.

The Ulster Unionists stem from the Scottish Presbyterians of 1610, and by 1900 feared that "Home Rule would mean Rome Rule". In December 1912 they held mass meetings and formed a Volunteer Force to resist Home Rule from Dublin. By 1914 they had 90 000 men and 14 000 rifles. They had backing from Prime Minister Bonar Law, and the British Conservative Party.

General Sir Arthur Paget held the position of GOC in Ireland. On 14 March he was ordered to "Safeguard depots in the North". On 17, 18 and 19th March he meets in London with the Prime Minister and CICS, Field Marshall French where he receives the following guidelines: "Officers who refuse to obey the order to act in support of Civil Power must be dismissed from the army" but nothing was in writing.

Paget then meets with Gough and others and again no minutes were allowed or issued.

Gough then returns to Curragh where he and 57 other officers threaten to resign their commission. Gough is then summonsed to London. Asquith then sends to Gough a document saying that everything is a misunderstanding and that the army will not be used to crush political opposition, or to enforce the Home Rule Bill. French as CIGS signs this letter and Gough then returns to Curragh with this assurance and as such the "mutiny" was over.

But was it really a mutiny? No formal orders were ever issued and so no officer disobeyed. Capt (Field Marshall) Wavell makes scathing comments in this regard.

Although the Home Rule Bill eventually went onto the statute books and it was signed by the ruling King at the time, it was "suspended" for the duration of the war. There then followed the Easter Uprising of 1916 and finally the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 after years of bloody fighting.

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The main talk was by Paul Kilmartin entitled: 1916, A year on the Western Front. This was not a talk about the first hideous day on the Somme, 1st July 1916, but rather a careful analysis of the strategic reasons for the great attack and an evaluation of the costs and important outcomes of battle that finally ended in November 1916.

One must deal with perceptions: the great British victories of Agincourt, Waterloo, Rorkes Drift; yet the critically important achievements at Blenheim and the Marne are forgotten. The British High Command are criticized, yet they had been forced to expand the army from 4 divisions in August 1914 to 58 divisions in June 1916. This was not Magersfontein or the Tugela Heights. They had to learn how to fight a whole new type of war while fighting it. There were no skilled professionals to train these huge numbers of Kitchener volunteers. Thus on Day 1 of the attack, the troops were inexperienced and under-trained.

Were the troops indeed "Lions led by donkeys"? Was the high Command "Butchers and Bunglers"? In fact the opening artillery barrage was the most carefully planned in history.

When the Germans retreated from the Marne in 1914, they established a defensive line on high ground with trenches and deep bunkers that overlooked 'no man's land'. Haig's problems were huge. Fodder for his 50 000 horses had to be shipped from England to France! The army had already suffered 100 000 casualties at Ypres and Loos. They were the junior partners to France.

Initially the politicians had decided at Chantilly that there should be a combined attack towards Verdun in February. The strategy of Falkenhuysen was to force the French army to defend Verdun; suck the French in, grind them down, and bleed their army to death. The struggle went on for two months, the French lost 89 000 men, in the battle for Le Mort Homme. The army was wilting, Petain was getting desperate, and put pressure on Haigh to launch an attack to draw off the German Divisions, and so relieve the pressure on Verdun.

Haigh agrees, but knows that his untrained troops will need massive artillery support. This proves to be totally inadequate. The guns date from Boer War [25% fail] 30% of the shells are duds, the shrapnel shells do not cut the wire.

The front line is 4kms from Albert up the road to Baupaume, only 15 kms away. It should have been a doddle, but the German trenches and troops are hardly touched. The slaughter of the British infantry is appalling. They must attack uphill across open ground against machine guns unscathed by the British artillery.

The Newfoundlanders took 90% casualties in 30 minutes. Day 1 on the Somme cost the British 20 000 dead on a front of about 20kms, from Gommecourt, Beaument Hamel and Thiepval, to La Boiselle between Albert and Baupaume. The cost was dreadful, but the British pressed on and on and by the 15 July Longueval and Delville wood were occupied at a cost of over 2 000 dead South Africans.

At Fler in September, the new technologies of tanks are used for the first time.

The fighting finally stops in November. The British have regained 100 square kilometres of French territory and 50 villages all smashed to rubble; at a cost of 100 000 dead. The army had advanced 11kms up the road but they still had not reached Baupaume, 6 kms away. The Germans had been driven from their first line of defences.

This was a killing year and a pivotal year that eventually led to the massive German defeat of 1918. The German army had suffered 150 000 dead, the French had suffered 200 000 dead - but Verdun never fell. It was saved by the sacrifice of 20 000 British dead on that first dreadful day on the Somme, 1 July 1916.

Paul then showed us an extract from a speech by Winston Churchill in Parliament, 13 May 1901. It is interesting to notice how he in 1940 ignores his own warning and advice, and commits Britain to a war in Europe, which ultimately cost Britain her empire:

"I have frequently been astonished since I have been in this House, to hear with what composure and how glibly members and even ministers, talk of a European war.

When mighty populations are impelled on each other - each individual generally embittered and inflamed - when the resources of science and civilisation might mitigate their fury, a European War can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors." (quote by Sir Winston Churchill 13 May 1901)

Vote of Thanks

Robin Smith then thanked the speakers; Brian for showing that the Curragh 'mutiny' like much of Irish history was complex and not easy to understand and then Paul for putting into context that pivotal year of 1916, which still remains for us a 'killing year', as witness the memorials in every English village.

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THURSDAY, 9th November


DDH: Lawrence of Arabia and the 1st World War by Charles Whiting

Main Talk: The Role of Indians at The Siege of Ladysmith by Ganes Pillay


* The Annual Dinner, Thursday 14 December, at Westville Country Club, Cost: R75 per person.
19h00 for 19h30
Please reserve your place with Ken Gillings at the next meeting on 9th November.

* Poppy day
Saturday 11 November
"We will remember them"

* Programme for 2007
Ken Gillings is in charge of this and is looking for DDH speakers. Please contact him if you wish to give us a 20 minute presentation.

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* This year, Armistice Day falls on a Saturday, and that makes it the same day as Poppy Day. As a number of our members will be selling poppies at various locations in the area - and that includes your Chairman and our regular speaker on Armistice Day!! - a decision has been taken to cancel the meeting for this year. We will review our plans for future years and advise you in good time for 11 November 2007. However, we have been invited to attend the delayed Armistice Day ceremony at Durban High School which, again due to the Saturday "problem", will be held at the school on Monday 13 November. The time is 10.30 am so that the ceremony can end in time for the 2 minute silence at 1100 hours. This is a moving and well organised ceremony and we urge all members who can make the time on that Monday to attend. For further information, please ring Paul Kilmartin on 082-449-7227.

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9 Nov
DDH - Charles Whiteing - Lawrence of Arabia and the 1st World War
MAIN - Ganes Pillay - The Role of Indians at The Siege of Ladysmith

Armistice Day - DHS school
Paul Kilmartin 10.30 am

14 Dec
Annual Dinner
Ken Gillings - Organiser


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Some Committee contact details
Mike Laing 031-205-1951
Phil Everitt 031-261-5751 (after hours)
Adrian van Schaik 082-894-8122 (after hours)
Bill Brady 031-561-5542 or 083 228 5485
Ken Gillings 083-654-5880

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South African Military History Society /