Corporal Charles Lewis T. Whichelow

 

Corporal Charles Lewis T. Whichelow (aged about 22) of the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment (near Youghal)

Date of incident: 31 May 1921

Sources: CE, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 14 June 1921; FJ, 1, 2, 3 June 1921; II, 1, 2, 14 June 1921; CCE, 4 June 1921; SS, 5 June 1921; Connaught Telegraph, 4 June 1921; Fermanagh Herald, 4 June 1921; Longford Leader, 4 June 1921; Nenagh News, 4 June 1921; Strabane Chronicle, 4 June 1921; Ulster Herald, 4 June 1921; Patrick J. Whelan’s WS 1449, 58-60 (BMH); ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 148; Kautt (2010), 178-79; Sheehan (2011), 130-31; 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/youghal/youghal.html; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/youghal/whichelow/whichelow.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014); http://1rhamps.com/hampshireR/Youghal.html (accessed 1 May 2016).   

 

Note: The landmine explosion that devastated the Hampshire regimental band as it marched from Youghal to the rifle range outside that town on 31 May 1921 was one of the worst disasters to befall any unit of British troops during the War of Independence.

 

One Cork journalist provided critical details about this atrocity: ‘Further inquiry shows the occurrence took place twenty yards above the Holy Well, under the golf links [on the outskirts of Youghal]. The explosion was caused by a landmine fired by an electric battery sixty yards up the hill. Immediately afterwards two civilians were seen running off in a westerly direction. Three of the military were killed instantly and nineteen wounded, three others [actually four others] dying subsequently. Two band boys were amongst the dead and three seriously wounded. The explosion was seen by fishermen from their boats in the bay.’

 

The IRA had planned to cause as many casualties as possible: ‘The exact location of the mine was near Frogmore, and not far from the golf links, which extend for a considerable distance. The fearsome trap had been laid with such skill that to the casual, or even close observer, the surface or side of the road would evidently present no appearance which would be apt to arouse even the least suspicion. From the details given above, it is clear that those who intended to explode the mine had a clear view and could not have made any mistake in their deadly intention, and this makes all the more appalling the fate of unarmed men who had only musical instruments in their hands when the mine exploded. . . . The wounds are described as truly dreadful. The band boys killed are said to have been terribly torn, and the wounded, even the least wounded, are in a tragic plight.’ See CCE, 4 June 1921.

 

Born in Wynberg, South Africa, in 1899, Corporal Whichelow was one of seven soldiers killed or mortally wounded in this notorious incident. His father had also served in the British army. Young Whichelow had married Violet M. Fry in Portsmouth less than two years earlier. He was buried in the St John in the Wilderness Cemetery at Withycombe Raleigh in Devon. See http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/youghal/whichelow/whichelow.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).

 

Records of the 2nd Hampshire Regiment indicate that besides the seven soldiers or bandsmen who died at the scene or shortly afterwards, another nineteen soldiers were wounded in this landmine explosion. With only one exception, all the killed or wounded were members of the regimental band. The band members ‘were accompanying “X” Company of the 2nd Hampshire Regiment under Captain C. H. Fowler, M.C. The usual security precautions were taken by the British. The party was preceded by a strong advanced guard, with flankers thrown back on either side, and followed by a strong rearguard with flankers forward. About half a mile from the [rifle] range the road passed through a glen. In the glen the IRA planted a mine. The mine was a large caliber shell filled with high explosive and was placed against a roadside wall and covered with loose stones. . . . The soldiers guarding the flank passed quite close to the detonator wire but failed to notice it. The column of Hampshires led by the band then reached the position where the mine was buried. The mine was detonated when the fourth or fifth section of fours of the band was opposite it, and the ambushers opened fire on the Hampshires. The band took the brunt of the explosion. The ambushers escaped without any casualties.’ See http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/youghal/youghal.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).

 

At a subsequent court of military inquiry an officer who had been in charge of this doomed company of Hants soldiers and bandsmen testified that the mine had been detonated by the use of a battery found on a hillside about 70 yards from the site of the explosion. He also asserted: ‘It was a well-known fact that the band and regiment were becoming very popular with the townspeople. Since their arrival on the 17th May 1921 there had been no trouble of any description between the townspeople and the military. No attack was otherwise made on the party. The man, or men, who exploded the bomb must have seen that the band was unarmed.’ In delivering its opinion the court declared that ‘this cold-blooded murder was deliberately planned on account of the popularity of the band and the regiment, and that the murderer, or murderers, knew the band was unarmed and contained many young boys, and that no attack was made on anybody else except the band’. See CE, 14 June 1921.

 

Cobh Volunteer officer Patrick J. Whelan, vice-commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, provided a detailed account of the background to and execution of this attack. Tom Hyde of Ballinacurra, a member of the Midleton Volunteer Company, had ‘discovered that fishing smacks at Ballinacurra were carrying as ballast used artillery shell cases which were evidently discarded by the British garrison at Fort Carlisle [at the entrance to Cork Harbour]. Tom conceived the idea that if these empty shell cases were filled with explosives, they could be used by us as road mines. He had no difficulty in securing a supply of cases from fishermen, and to my knowledge four land mines were subsequently made and used against the British in our battalion area. The first mine was used in an attack on the Hampshire Regiment stationed at Youghal. . . . This was carried out by Paddy O’Reilly and Thomas Power, both of the Youghal Company.’

 

Their plan was ‘to explode a mine under a party of soldiers who regularly went from their barracks in Youghal to a rifle range about one and a half miles outside the town. Diarmuid Hurley, the column O/C and then O/C of the battalion, agreed to the proposal and told me to fill the shell case with explosives and instruct Paddy O’Reilly in the use of the [electric] exploder. . . .  On their way to range practice the soldiers in Youghal travelled on foot by either of two routes. . . . Tommy and Paddy selected suitable positions to explode the mine on each route, but on the first three occasions they lay in wait, the military used the other route. On the fourth occasion the soldiers passed over the route where the mine was concealed. Paddy pressed the switch to “on” when he judged that the main body of troops was marching over or close to the mine. Several tommies were killed and wounded in the explosion, including some of the regimental band. It appears that Paddy pressed the switch too soon. Had he waited a second or two longer, the effects would surely have been more disastrous, as the troops proper would be in more dense formation than the band. Paddy and Tommy got safely away after the occurrence.’ Paddy O’Reilly and Tommy Power took opposite sides in the Civil War. The National Army officer Power died in an engagement with anti-Treaty forces at Bruree, Co. Limerick, in August 1922. A captured anti-Treaty Volunteer, O’Reilly was executed by members of the National Army in Waterford Gaol in January 1923. See Patrick J. Whelan’s WS 1449, 59-60 (BMH).

 

British officials made special efforts to mark the repatriation of the dead Hants bandsmen with full military honours: ‘The remains of the seven victims of the recent explosion near Youghal . . . were removed from Cork yesterday afternoon [3 June 1921] for interment in England. The seven coffins, each enveloped in the Union Jack, were first removed to the large square at Cork Military Barracks, borne on the shoulders of the comrades of the deceased soldiers. In the square the coffins were placed on trestles while prayers for the dead were recited, and a hymn was played by the band of the Staffordshire Regt. The Last Post having been sounded, the coffins were placed in motor cars which were in readiness, and the funeral procession left the barracks for the Fishguard boat. When the cortege reached the quayside, the seven coffins were transferred on board for conveyance to England. The cortege included a large number of [the] deceaseds’ comrades of the Hants Regiment, and other regiments were also well represented, while a large body of the city constabulary also followed the remains to the quayside. Major-General Strickland, his staff, and other officers were present during the recital of the prayers for the dead at the barracks.’ See CE, 4 June 1921.


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