The Irish Guards in the Great War

It was fighting with the Irish Guards (2nd Battalion) which cost the life of Rudyard Kipling’s son Jack. Kipling never got over his son’s death and wrote the History of the Irish Guards n the Great War. His description of the call up and initial deployment of the First Battalion in which Leonard Kilcoin served is shown below:

Irish Guards at Wellington Barracks - 1914 (Leo could well be amongst them)

Irish Guards at Wellington Barracks – 1914 (Leo could well be amongst them)

AT 5 P.M. on Tuesday, August 4, 1914, the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards received orders to mobilize for war against Germany. They were then quartered at Wellington Barracks and, under the mobilization scheme, formed part of the 4th (Guards) Brigade, Second Division, First Army Corps. The Brigade consisted of:

The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards.
The 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards.
The 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards.
The 1st Battalion Irish Guards.
A more informal group at Wellington Barracks

A more informal group at Wellington Barracks

Mobilization was completed on August 8. Next day, being Sunday, the Roman Catholics of the Battalion paraded under the Commanding Officer, Lieut.Colonel the Hon. G. H. Morris, and went to Westminster Cathedral where Cardinal Bourne preached; and on the morning of the 11th August Field-Marshal Lord Roberts and Lady Aileen Roberts made a farewell speech to them in Wellington Barracks. This was the last time that Lord Roberts saw the Battalion of which he was the first Commander-in-Chief.

On the 12th August the Battalion entrained for Southampton in two trains at Nine Elms Station, each detachment being played out of barracks to the station by the band. They were short one officer, as 2nd Lieutenant St. J. R. Pigott had fallen ill, and an officer just gazetted—2nd Lieutenant Sir Gerald Burke, Bart.—could not accompany them as he had not yet got his uniform. They embarked at Southampton on a hot still day in the P.&0. S.S. Novara. This was a long and tiring operation, since every one was new to embarkation-duty, and, owing to the tide, the ship’s bulwarks stood twenty-five feet above the quay. The work was not finished till 4 P.M. when most of the men had been under arms for twelve hours. Just before leaving, Captain Sir Delves Broughton, Bart., was taken ill and had to be left behind. A telegram was sent to Headquarters, asking for Captain H. Hamilton Berners to take his place, and the Novara cleared at 7 P.M. As dusk fell, she passed H.M.S. Formidable off Ryde and exchanged signals with her. The battle ship’s last message to the Battalion was to hope that they would get “plenty of fighting.” Many of the officers at that moment were sincerely afraid that they might be late for the war!

LOC17239vKipling’s history from which the above extract was taken is, not surprisingly, regarded as on of the best diaries of the Great War. Leonard Kilcoin, whilst not matching the literary eloquence of the great writer was, none the less, a good writer. The big difference of course is that his diary, which you are about to read was written by someone who was actually there.


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