RIC Auxiliary Cadet William A. H. Boyd (aged 21) from Sussex (Rathcoole Wood near Newmarket)
Date of incident: 16 June 1921
Sources: CE, 18, 20 June 1921; CCE, 18 June 1921; FJ, 18 June 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/159A/22 (TNA); Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police (CO 904/148-50, TNA); Seán O’Mahony Papers, MS 44,047/2 (NLI); George Power’s WS 451, 20 (BMH); WS 744 of Jeremiah Murphy, Michael Courtney, and Denis Mulchinock, 18-19 (BMH); John Jones’s WS 759, 12-13 (BMH); Patrick O’Brien’s WS 764, 51-55 (BMH); Cornelius Meany’s WS 787, 21-23 (BMH); Thomas Culhane’s WS 831, 14-17 (BMH); John Winters’s WS 948, 9-10 (BMH); James O’Connell’s WS 949, 9-10 (BMH); Tadhg McCarthy’s WS 965, 16-17 (BMH); Jeremiah Daly’s WS 1015, 11-13 (BMH); James J. Riordan’s WS 1172, 17-20 (BMH); James Cashman’s WS 1270, 14-16 (BMH); Matthew Kelleher’s WS 1319, 10-12 (BMH); Seán Healy’s WS 1339, 15-17 (BMH); Matthew Murphy’s WS 1375, 15-17 (BMH); Pat Lynch, Rebel Cork’s FS, 169-77; O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 168-69; O’Connell (1991), 23; Abbott (2000), 256-57; Meagher (2004), 63-64; McCall (2010), 127; Kautt (2010), 175-78; Townshend (2013), 294; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); http://www.theauxiliaries.com/men-alphabetical/men-b/boyd-wah/boyd.html; http://www.theauxiliaries.com/INCIDENTS/rathcoole-ambush/strickland/strickland-report.html; http://www.theauxiliaries.com/INCIDENTS/rathcoole-ambush/rathcoole-ambush.html (accessed 27 Sept. 2015); http://www.millstreet.ie/blog/2014/06/16/on-this-day-1921-the-rathcoole-ambush (accessed 12 Nov. 2015).
Note: RIC Auxiliarry Cadet Boyd was killed when on 16 June 1921 the IRA laid a successful ambush for four lorries of Auxiliaries at Rathcoole Wood, located ‘on high ground south of the Millstreet-Banteer road and about 2½ miles east of Millstreet. The [Millstreet, Charleville, Kanturk, and Mallow] columns assembled in the wood during the night, and early on the morning of June 16th, 1921, six mines were laid in the road along the frontage of the wood. The mines were spaced at the estimated distances between lorries travelling in convoy, and the whole position extended over a distance of about 1,200 yards.’ The combined strenth of the four IRA columns was about 120 men, of whom 80 had rifles and the rest shotguns. See James Cashman’s WS 1270, 14-15 (BMH).
At this stage of the War of Independence transport constraints meant that the Auxiliaries of L Company had to collect their supplies from Banteer railway station by road and take them back to their base at Mount Leader House. It was on this route near Rathcoole that they were ambushed by the IRA. They had been forced to use a restricted route owing to the general destruction of roads and bridges by the IRA, which made the movements of these and other crown forces more predictable. A large IRA detachment of about 130 men was deployed under the command of Patrick O’Brien, who divided them into eight sections; mines were laid with mixed results. See Seán O’Mahony Papers, MS 44,047/2 (NLI); Patrick O’Brien’s WS 764, 51-55 (BMH).
Three of the land mines in the road exploded and, according to one report, put three of the four lorries out of action. The Volunteers then began a great firefight against their enemies and inflicted serious casualties before withdrawing. According to one account, two cadets were killed and four were wounded, two seriously and two slightly. The British claimed that they had also inflicted significant casualties: ‘One man was found dead, and two or three others are believed to have been killed and carried away, and a large number were wounded.’ The number of Auxiliaries involved was placed at 25; the number of IRA raiders was put at nearly 300—a serious exaggeration. See CE, 18 June 1921.
According to Florrie O’Donoghue’s corrective account, the Rathcoole ambush of 16 June 1921 was ‘the largest action against the British forces in the division area in the last phase of the struggle’. It involved as many as 140 or 150 Volunteers, ‘including protective elements’, drawn from the columns of the Millstreet, Kanturk, Newmarket, Charleville, and Mallow battalions. This force attacked a large party of Auxiliaries in four lorries. Land mines were important in this encounter. As many as seven mines had been laid, and three were detonated—one under the rear lorry, a second under the lead lorry, and a third under a party of Auxiliaries as they tried to outflank the ambush position. All of the explosions inflicted casualties. Again, it proved impossible to put the Auxiliaries’ machine guns out of action, and after almost an hour of fighting the Volunteers withdrew, ‘retiring without casualties’. ‘The successful assembly and dispersal of such a large number of men without loss or casualties’, declared O’Donoghue, ‘was intself a remarkable achievement.’ See O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 168-69. North Cork IRA leader George Power reported that the size of the IRA force at Rathcoole had reached about 110, with 61 riflemen and 50 shotgun men. See George Power’s WS 451, 20 (BMH).
In his report Pat Lynch noted that according to IRA intelligence from the Millstreet Battalion, members of the Mount Leader garrison of Auxiliaries in ‘a convoy of armour-plated lorries travelled to the Banteer railhead for supplies on a couple of days each week. The observers noted that the lorries, which contained about eight to ten men each in addition of the driver, were covered with steel wire mesh to ward off bombs or grenades and had machine-guns mounted. It was also noted that the strength of the convoys varied between two and four lorries which travelled an estimated distance of 300 yards apart.’
This intelligence became the basis for the ambush plan. The IRA claimed to have brought together at Rathcoole Wood about 130 armed men for the ambush, 65 with rifles, ‘in addition to fifty shotgun men of the Millstreet Battalion’. On 16 June 1921 four lorries passed into the ambush position. The four road mines that had been laid were generally ineffective, with one exception. One mine reportedly blew up four or five Auxiliaries from the last lorry. After about an hour of fierce conflict, according to one prominent republican account, ‘the I.R.A. leaders decided to break off the engagement with not a single casualty on their side. Nearly half of the Auxiliary force lay dead on the roadway, and many more were wounded.’ See Rebel Cork’s FS, 169-77. Republican reports that twelve members of the crown forces had been killed considerably exaggerated ADRIC fastalities, which numbered only two. However, it is apparent from compensation evidence that many more Auxiliaries were wounded in the attack, which might explain the discrepancy.
The Cork Examiner of 20 June 1921 noted about the military-funeral ceremonies: ‘The bodies of Cadets Shorter and Boyde [sic], killed at Rathcoole ambush, were removed from Millstreet to-day for interment in England, encased in heavy oak coffins enshrouded with Union Jacks. They were placed on Crossley tenders, all houses in the town being closed and shuttered and window blinds drawn whilst the cortege was passing.’
At the Mallow quarter sessions in October 1921 the Recorder of Cork awarded £2,500 in compensation to the parents of Cadet Boyd for the death of their son in the ambush at Rathcoole Wood on the previous 16 June. Twenty-four wounded members of the crown forces received much smaller awards for less than fatal injuries. See II, 6 Oct. 1921. Aged 21 and single like Cadet Shorter, Boyd had served in C Company of the RIC Auxiliary Division for about seven months at the time of his death; he had previously fought in the Great War, rising to the rank of second lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment.