Neither Unionist nor Nationalist: The 10th (Irish) Division in the Great War by Stephen Sandford

Second paragraph of third chapter:

On the eve of the First World War the officer strength of the British regular army was approximately 12,738 with a further 2,557 attached to the Special Reserve and 3,202 in the Reserve of Officers. Of a further 9,563 officers of the Territorial Force, only 1,090 had agreed to serve overseas in the event of war.2 While on the surface this may appear sufficient for an army that was 10,932 men (6%) under its peacetime establishment, it was totally inadequate for one that was to expand by over a million men in the first four months of the war.3 At full strength an infantry battalion required 30 officers, although in peacetime — except for units stationed in India — this was rarely achieved. An infantry battalion was commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel with a Major as second in command who, together with the machine gun officer, adjutant, quartermaster and a medical officer attached to the battalion from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), made up the battalion headquarters. A further six officers were attached to each of the battalion's four rifle companies, one of whom would double as battalion transport officer. It was usual practice for a battalion on active service to leave one of its officers at the regimental depot to bring out its 'first line' reinforcements to replace casualties. An infantry battalion would therefore usually go to the front with 29 regimental officers and a medical officer.4
2 Statistics of the military effort of the British Empire, pp 234-5; the annual return of the Territorial Force for the year 1913, [Cd 72541, H.C. 1914, lii, 5 and 125.
3 Parl. Deb. Fifth Ser., 63, 25 May 1914, col. 37; Statistics of the military effort of the British empire, p. 364.
4 Ronald Clifford, 'What is a battalion?' in Stand to! no. 30 (Winter 1990), pp 17-19; 22.

My grandfather fought in the First World War with the 6th battallion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and indeed ended the war as its commanding officer; the 6th Dubs were part of the 10th (Irish) Division, which mainly fought in the east – Gallipoli, Macedonia and Palestine. This book is full of detail about the nature of the Division, which unlike the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions was not aligned with either Nationalism or Unionism. I found it a bit hard to get through. There are lots and lots of statistics about the background of the soldiers, especially the officers, and the comparative disciplinary record; the actual fighting occupies only 22 pages, less than 10% of the book; only two maps are reproduced, and they are not much help in trying to understand the narrative. There is a rather poor chapter analysing military leadership as demonstrated in the Division's own leaders, and a better one on the lessons learned, or not learned, about military tactics in the course of the campaign. I couldn't really recommend it to anyone who isn't a First World War completist. But it did point me to the diary of Noel Drury, who would have known my grandfather well; it is apparently being published in April, edited by an old friend of mine, so I look forward to getting it – sometimes the primary sources are a better read than the later analysis.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is The Twinkling of an Eye, by Brian Aldiss, of which I have higher hopes.

One thought on “Neither Unionist nor Nationalist: The 10th (Irish) Division in the Great War by Stephen Sandford

Comments are closed.