Brigadier General Hanway Robert Warren Cumming, D.S.O. (aged 53), of the General Staffs Command and O/C of the Kerry Infantry Brigade, British 6th Division (Cloonbannin ambush)
Date of incident: 5 March 1921
Sources: CE, 20 Dec. 1920; 7, 11 March, 28, 29 April, 4, 8, 9 June, 14 July 1921; II, 8 March, 30 April, 8 June 1921; CCE, 12 March 1921; FJ, 9 June 1921; Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police (CO 904/148-50, TNA); MSP34/REF29397 and MSP34/REF57556 (Military Archives); George Power’s WS 451, 17 (BMH); John Jones’s WS 759, 9-10 (BMH); Cornelius Meaney’s WS 787, 16-19 (BMH); Denny Mullane’s WS 789, 20-21 (BMH); Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 197-201 (BMH); Annie Barrett’s WS 1133, 5 (BMH); James J. Riordan’s WS 1172, 11-13 (BMH); William Reardon’s WS 1185, 9-10 (BMH); James Hickey’s WS 1218, 11-13 (BMH); James Cashman’s WS 1270, 11-13 (BMH); John O’Keefe’s WS 1291, 4-5 (BMH); Humphrey O’Donoghue’s WS 1351, 7-9 (BMH); Matthew Murphy’s WS 1375, 12-13 (BMH); Daniel Coakley’s WS 1406, 7-9 (BMH); Cornelius Healy’s WS 1416, 14-16 (BMH); Michael O’Connell’s WS 1428, 15 (BMH); Rebel Cork’s FS, 147-55; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 143; Kautt (2010), 170-75; Sheehan (2011), 45, 123-24, 133, 140; O’Malley and Horgan (2012), 274; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); Commonwealth War Graves Commission; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/cummings-ambush/cummings-ambush.html; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/cummings-ambush/cummings/cummings.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014). See also Donoghue (1954, 1986), 139-41, where the crown casualties were put at thirteen killed and fifteen wounded; these figures greatly exaggerate the number of killed and wounded British soldiers. The British are said to have reported their casualties as four dead and six wounded. See Kautt (2010), 172.
Note: A British army patrol of the East Lancashire Regiment commanded by General Cumming was returning to Buttevant from County Kerry, having initially failed to locate the site of an IRA ambush. The orginal site intended to ambush an ADRIC convoy had been vacated, and a combined force of seventy Volunteers from the North Cork column and the Kerry No. 2 Brigade under Seán Moylan’s command set up an alternative position further east at Cloonbannin (now called Clonbanin). Cumming’s patrol, which included two Crossley tenders, a Rolls Royce armoured car, and a Ford touring car, returned along this route. While the IRA mines failed to explode, the driver of the lead Crossley tender was seriously wounded in the opening volley of a Hotchkiss gun, and this Crossley stopped, forcing the other vehicles to brake hard, with the result that the armoured car slid off the road and was unable to return to it. Heavy fire was then directed initially on the touring car in particular, which accounted for a number of the British fatalities, while fire on the lorries was also sustained for two hours. The initial IRA intelligence had been acquired from Killarney. The outcome was a significant victory for the IRA. See Kautt (2010), 170-75.
Among the five British soldiers definitely known to have been killed or mortally wounded in this ambush was Brigadier General Cumming, the commander of the Kerry Infantry Brigade of the British 6th Division. He was one of the highest-ranking British army officers to be killed during the Irish War of Independence. His funeral took place with full military honours at Golders Green Crematorium in England on 9 March. (The attackers had been aiming to ambush Major General Sir Edward Peter Strickland, who would have been an even more significant prize.) Mrs Beatrice Cumming later claimed compensation of £25,000 and was awarded £11,000. Cumming’s brother James Potter Cumming was awarded £3,000 in compensation. See CE, 28 April, 14 July 1921.
According to one account from the side of the IRA, the Volunteers took no casualties while inflicting heavy losses on their British enemies: ‘As matters went, all I.R.A. sections withdrew from Clonbanin [sic] without suffering a casualty, whilst under the barking Vickers [gun] they left thirteen enemy dead and fifteen wounded. By well-known paths the Kerrymen withdrew to Rathmore, the Millstreet column towards the steep sides of Clara, and the men of Newmarket and Charleville towards Kiskeam, where they were billeted that night.’ See Rebel Cork’s FS, 155.
Yet at a court hearing in July 1921, when his wife was awarded compensation for Cumming’s death, it was stated that only six members of the crown forces had died and five others had been wounded in the Cloonbannin ambush. See CE, 14 July 1921. These figures are well below those given by IRA sources, two of whom mention thirteen British soldiers killed. On the other hand, compilers of ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’ listed the ‘colonel commandant’ and two other ranks killed and one officer and five other ranks wounded at Cloonbannnin. British losses could have been much higher had it not been for the presence of armoured cars—a relatively recent development. William Sheehan has observed: ‘The armoured cars were crucial to convoy protection, and the ambush at Clonbannin would have been far more serious without the firepower of the Rolls-Royce and the armour plating on the lorries.’ See Sheehan (2011), 133.
In December 1921 Brigadier General Cumming had issued an order about the carrying of IRA hostages by British military and police parties: ‘Take Notice, owing to treacherous attacks by armed cvilians on military and police convoys proceeding by road, on and after Monday next, December 20th, 1920, I.R.A. officers or leaders at present in military custody will be sent as hostages with all transport moving armed forces of the crown and proceeding by road in the areas proclaimed to be under martial law.’ See CE, 20 Dec. 1920.
In her penion application the Mallow telephonist Annie Barrett stated that she had given to the IRA information about the movements of Brigadier General Cumming to Tralee and Killarney; this information and other important intelligence had been picked up in phone conversations between the different military barracks at Dublin, Limerick, Tipperary, Tralee, Killarney, and Fermoy that had been routed through her exchange at Mallow. Barrett claimed to have passed on to the Volunteers information about the movements of crown forces that had led to IRA successes not only at Cloonbannin but also at Rathcoole and Ballyvourney. The trustworthiness of her testimony, however, is called into question by the fact that she was alleged to have reported Siobhan Creedon (a major intelligence operative in the Cork No. 2 Brigade), which led to Creedon’s dismissal from the Post Office in April 1920. See MSP34/REF29397 and MSP34/REF57556 (Military Archives); Annie Barrett’s WS 1133, 5 (BMH).
General Cumming (aged 53 at death) boasted a military record of great distinction: ‘He fought all through the South African war and came back with the rank of brevet major. Subsequently, in 1911 he was promoted [to] major. At the outbreak of the European war he was serving in India, and he was sent to France in 1915 and promoted [to] brigadier-general. His services in France were very remarkable. Early in the war he was mentioned in Lord Haig’s despatches for having taken the Munich trenches. His own corps commander recommended him for immediate reward, and from that date his progress was very rapid. He was sent back to England, and from August 1917 to January 1918 he was in charge of the Machine Gun Corps at Grantham, where he had to deal with 250,000 men. General Cuming [sic] was particularly noted for his powers of organisation, and in January 1918 he was again sent back to France, where he was put in command of the 110th Brigade of the 21st Division, remaining in command until the armistice. After that he was promoted [to] divisional commander and was appointed to the command of the 21st Division until demobilisation. In 1918, in the great push, he distinguished himself. The brigade was known to the Germans as the Leicester Brigade, and a captured German communiqué stated—“The Leicester Brigade gave us most trouble”. For his services at the front he was awarded the D.S.O. by the British government, while the French government gave him the Order of the Legion of Honour and presented it to him directly. After that General Cuming came to England, and in November 1920 he was sent to Ireland and posted to the command of what was known as the Kerry Brigade, his headquarters being at Buttevant.’ Summary by barrister W.C.A. Hungerford at the Mallow quarter sessions on 27 April 1921 in connection with the compensation claim of the widow Mrs Beatrice Cumming of 106 Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park, London, for £25,000. See CE, 28 April 1921.