Bandsman Francis Burke

 

Bandsman Francis Burke (aged 21) 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/burke/burke.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014); http://1rhamps.com/hampshireR/Youghal.html (accessed 1 May 2016). 

 

Note: This was one of the worst disasters to befall any unit of British troops during the whole of the Independence War. Born in 1900 in Winchester, Burke was one of seven soldiers killed or mortally wounded. He was interred in the Winchester Old Cemetery (Westhill); two of his fallen comrades also came from Winchester. ‘The funerals of these three young men took place in Winchester on 6 June 1921 with full military honours and the citizens, who wished to pay their last respects to three of their number, lining the city streets. The funeral of Bandsman Burke had taken place at St Maurice Church before proceeding to West Hill Cemetery. It was a very sad day for the relatives of these men, the Hampshire Regiment, the county, and the city.’ http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/youghal/burke/burke.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).

 

The Hampshire Regimental Journal of June 1921 published the following detailed report: ‘On the 17th of May, X Company the 2nd Hampshire Regiment and the band, under Capt C. H. Fowler, M.C., went to Youghal for musketry. Their arrival  [in that town] . . . was greeted with pleasure by the people of Youghal, for the men of the battalion created a most favourable impression by their exemplary behaviour in the town last year, and they succeeded our friends the 2nd Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. During the following fortnight there is no doubt but that the detachment heightened the impression of last year, and the playing of the band was unquestionably a most popular feature with the townspeople; too popular alas, for the crime was deliberately aimed at the bandsmen and bandboys of the battalion.

 

‘On the 31st May the detachment paraded at 8.a.m. to march to the range for practice with the Lewis guns. As only one team of the band had been trained in this weapon, the band carried no arms, but was to play the company down to the range by the road behind the town, which was generally used when marching out, owing to its more convenient gradients for horse transport. . . .

 

‘At the point where the land mine was placed, an overgrown bank runs from the road across the boggy ground and up the hill. It was along this bank that the wire connecting the mine and the battery was laid, and it was amongst the brambles and bracken that the murderers hid themselves and the battery. The mine apparently was a large calibre shell filled with high explosive and was placed against the masonry wall and tamped or covered with loose stones. The position was chosen with such cunning that, as soon as the right flankers of the advance guard had passed, a fold in the ground prevented them from seeing anyone running up the hill, while the bank prevented the rearguard flankers from seeing the escaping attackers. . . .

 

‘The band could not only be heard, but the whole column could be seen from the point where the mine was electrically exploded, when the fourth or fifth section of fours of the band was opposite it. For one sickening moment it was not possible to realise what had happened or even who was hurt, but as the clouds of dust settled some twenty men and boys of the band were seen stretched on the ground and pitiful groans and cries for help were heard. . . .

 

‘The scenes on the road flowing the explosion were pitiful beyond description. To a curtain extent the masonry wall had driven the force of the explosion backwards, but even so the damage had been hideous. Three of the band were killed instantaneously, and three were so desperately wounded that from the first little hope of their recovery was entertained. Although the majority of the troops which formed the band were young soldiers who had never been under fire before, their behaviour on this occasion was magnificent. . . .

 

‘In an hour and a half the removal of the wounded to the [Youghal] Workhouse Hospital began, and in about three hours all had been moved. Those who witnessed it will never forget the tender and gentle care with which the wounded were lifted by their comrades. In the hospital they were tended with greatest possible skill until the arrival of the hospital train with a surgeon-specialist and nursing Sisters from the Military Hospital, Cork, but by that time three more had died of their wounds.

 

The investigation made on the spot by the commanding officer convinced him that this horrible business was planned and carried out by ruffians who came from places other than Youghal, and this was explained to the men of the detachment, who were told at the same time that they would not be confined to barracks but were free to visit the town as heretofore. . . .

 

‘Every sympathy is felt with the bandmaster, whose own escape is a miracle, in that he was walking on the flank, nearest to the mine, of that section of fours of whom all where killed. It is through his efforts that the band was as fine as it was, and it is unutterably cruel that the work of six years should be practically annihilated in as many seconds. Every instrument but four has been irretrievably damaged, and the strength of the band in personnel has been practically halved.’ [Spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation have been standardised.] See http://1rhamps.com/hampshireR/Youghal.html (accessed 1 May 2016). 


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